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A shot in the arm for Greeley employees

By Eric Bellamy
Greeley Tribune (Colorado)
Posted on Friday, Aug. 13, 2010

Access to health care just became a lot easier for Laura Trujillo, who visited the city of Greeley's new Employee Wellness Center for a blood-pressure and cholesterol check on Thursday.

The center opened Monday in the basement of the Greeley Senior Activity Center at 1010 6th St., which is next door to the Greeley Recreation Center, where Trujillo is a facility worker.

“I don't have a family doctor, so for me the clinic is perfect, and close to my work,” Trujillo said. “I'm so excited for this clinic.”

Other city employees are happy, too, as the center provides most of them services such as physicals, throat cultures, lab work, referrals to specialists and management of diabetes, cholesterol and high blood pressure — all at no cost. Employees enrolled in the city's choice and standard health insurance plans pay nothing for office visits, while workers on the high-deductible health plan are charged a $15 co-pay for visits not considered preventive.

Sharon McCabe, the city's human resources director, said 775 employees and about 1,800 dependents are on the city's health plan. Dependents must be at least 2 years old to be eligible to use the clinic.

The city of Greeley has offered its employees a wellness program for about 15 years, McCabe said, providing health fairs, flu clinics, mammogram screenings, a health-oriented website and other information for employees.

“This is like the next step in that — just really supporting people in healthy lifestyles and making healthy choices and being educated and aware,” she said.

Weld and Larimer counties both have health clinics for employees, McCabe said, but the facilities are much less common at the municipal level. Fort Collins and other cities are studying the potential of opening wellness clinics.

“I'd say we're probably on the front of this. We're not unique, but I would say” Greeley is one of a handful of Colorado cities with a health clinic, McCabe said.

The city spent about $375,000 to open the center, including $50,000 on remodeling at the senior center. Its annual budget will be less than that amount, she said.

The city has contracted with a third-party health company, Healthstat Inc., to provide the staff for the clinic. McCabe said concerns related to the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act and patient confidentiality prompted the city to not serve as operator-manager. The clinic is operated by a Healthstat physicians assistant and medical assistant, who each work 30 hours a week.

The city's share for employee premiums in various health plans totals $6.8 million annually, McCabe said.

“The purpose is to promote wellness and people taking care of themselves and being compliant with their medications and being compliant with their regimens in addressing their health issues,” she said. “In the long term, it will save costs when we have healthier employees. We're spending money in the short term to save money in the long term, and it will have an impact in our health-care costs for the city as well as the employees.”

Jan DeWolf, the center's medical assistant, said in just the center's first week, “we have a ton of appointments for kids' sports physicals.”

She said clinics such as this are becoming a popular trend nationally because of their cost-efficiency and convenience. For somebody who wakes up with a sore throat, for example, it's a lot more convenient to immediately get into an employer-provided wellness clinic than to try to get into a primary care physician's office.

“It's pretty much a one-stop shop, and it's a good benefit to employees,” DeWolf said.

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