New city clinic well received by employees, vendor CEO reports

mowen@ledger-enquirer.comSeptember 18, 2013 

Debra Smith, LPN, right, checks Sofia White's blood pressure Wednesday afternoon at the city's Employee Health and Wellness Center at 200 10th Avenue.

MIKE HASKEY — mhaskey@ledger-enquirer.com Buy Photo

In its first 70-odd days of operation, the city’s new employee medical clinic, officially the Health and Wellness Center, has seen more than 1,000 patients, filled almost 2,500 prescriptions and performed more than 3,700 lab tests.

All at no cost to the patients, beyond their insurance premiums.

Allison Judge, chief executive officer of TransformHealthRX, the company contracted to operate the clinic, said this week that the clinic’s opening has been well received by employees.

“I visit the center often and I always talk to patients. One thing I always her them say is that we’ve saved them money out of their pocket.” Judge said.

Judge said in the early days of the center’s operation there have been some longer waiting times for some patients, but that is a symptom of all the patients being new patients and must spend some time giving the staff their medical history.

“In some instances there has been some wait time,” she said. “But by and large when looking at patient satisfaction surveys and by far a very small percentage rated lower than a 10 on wait times.”

The company calls practically all patients who have used the clinic and ask about 10 questions about the service. Those surveys are compiled and sent to the Consolidated Government, she said.

“That report has not been doctored or sanitized in any way, you’re getting the good, the bad and the ugly,” she said. “If a patient says something, we’re writing it down and giving you the information.”

Councilor Judy Thomas questioned whether the city is really getting an accurate reflection of employee satisfaction.

“The surveys that I have received almost without exception have been very positive,” Thomas said. “So if there have been any negative comments, we’re not getting those.”

Even though the comments are gathered by telephone from Statesboro, Ga., Thomas suggested that if employees were able to give their comments anonymously, “they might be a little more forthcoming.”

Councilor Bruce Huff said he has heard a few complaints from employees, but not about the clinic. They said some city supervisors would not let workers leave work for clinic appointments.

City Manager Isaiah Hugley said he had not heard any such reports, but said city employees should be allowed to leave work for appointments, and not have their pay docked for the time away. Hugley said he would investigate the complaints Huff brought forward and make sure employees could leave for appointments.

Several city employees appeared before Columbus Council Tuesday to give testimonials about the center. One, Community Investment Director Amy Carbajal said she recently came to the Consolidated Government from a similar position in Florida, and Columbus’ benefits package and the availability of the clinic have saved her family a lot of money.

“We signed on right away and had two appointments in the first two months,” she said. “Between the appointments and prescriptions, we saved over $200.”

Currently a little more than 500 of the city’s approximately 3,000 employees have signed up for the center, opting instead for more traditional HMO or PPO insurance coverage. But the premiums and co-pays for those coverage plans could be going up, as has been the case in the private sector.

The administration brought a proposal to implement the increases to Columbus Council on Tuesday, and the plan was not embraced by councilors. But because health care costs are expected to exceed the amount budgeted by the city by about $2 million this year, even those councilors opposed to the plan proposed Tuesday said they realizewd the status quo if not a viable option.

The proposed plan called for premiums for those who opt for the clinic would not increase. City officials have said they hope that will motivate more employees to take that option.

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