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Employer-sponsored free clinics are gaining ground in Lancaster County

01/03/2017 LancasterOnline By Heather Stauffer

A little over a year since the first one opened here, employer-sponsored free clinics are gaining ground in Lancaster County.

Lancaster General Health has announced plans to partner with businesses operating from the Rock Lititz campus in what will be its first venture into that health care model.

And Lampeter-Strasburg School District has joined the program started by Lancaster-Lebanon Intermediate Unit 13, which pioneered the movement in the region in partnership with Wisconsin-based QuadMed.

Advocates say offering employees free health care in an on-site clinic can help keep costs in check both by cutting out third parties and by making preventive care easier to access.

Flip Steinour, the IU's director of human resources, said so far its results are promising, with no health care cost increase from the previous year — although he can’t attribute that solely to the clinic.

“If we do what we’ve always done, nothing’s going to change,” he said. “I’m confident that we’re headed in the right direction.”

IU experience

In the first year, Steinour said, about 40 percent of IU employees and about a quarter of their dependents used the clinic for free care, wellness coaching, routine labs and physical therapy, reporting an overall satisfaction rate of 99.3 percent.

One key factor, he said, is that visit lengths range from 20 to 60 minutes, which gives the doctor time to ask patients about problems instead of having to rely on expensive tests.

A surprise, he said, was how strong the demand for free physical therapy services was; they bumped up the number of hours it was offered after the first six months.

They also saw some people who wanted to keep their regular doctors visit the clinic just once, so they could start filling prescriptions there — which Steinour said is okay because that’s cheaper for the IU anyway.

In addition to the clinic, Steinour said, this year the IU also carved out its prescription drug program and started offering an intensive weight management program from Indiana-based On Target Health this year.

To date, employees accepted into the voluntary program have lost more than 1,500 pounds.

Joining up

When the IU first announced its plans for the clinic, it expressed interest in having school districts or other organizations share it. In September, Lampeter-Strasburg started doing that, adding its 370 employees to the IU’s 940.

The clinic can handle up to to 2,000 employees, Steinour said, so there’s still room for more partners.

“We welcome anyone who wants to do this,” he said. “They pay a percentage of the cost based on use.”

District spokeswoman Anne Harnish said estimates predict that over five years it will avoid more than $500,000 in medical costs for staff who elect to receive health services at the center.

Steinour also noted that he thinks the concept has potential for groups of smaller employers who band together.

Jumping in

That's pretty much what Lancaster General has in mind for Rock Medical, the clinic it’s opening exclusively to serve businesses operating from the Rock Lititz campus, according to spokesman John Lines.

The clinic will occupy about 8,000 square feet, but the cost and other details are still being determined, Lines said, noting that Lancaster General is still in discussions with the companies.

“Our goal is to collaborate with all of the tenants,” Lines said. “Our focus will be on getting employees well and staying well.”

The plan is to temporarily provide services from its existing Kissel Hill practice in January, then open the clinic at Rock Lititz in March or April.

In 2015 Lancaster General explored the possibility of a clinic partnership with Hempfield School District, but that plan sparked significant opposition from district residents, who expressed concern about start-up costs and why some other local providers had not been invited to submit bids.

Hempfield spokeswoman Shannon Zimmerman said in an email this month that the district “is not actively pursuing any on-site clinic possibilities at this time.”

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