Questions remain about proposed Manatee school district clinic

ataylor@bradenton.comApril 5, 2011 

BRADENTON -- Manatee County school board members took a deeper look into opening a health and wellness center for district employees Monday but board members and the public questioned the timing.

The idea of a center originally came up last year. The idea was to provide on-site or near-site medical programs that would allow the school district to bring health and medical resources to its workplace.

It was the first time in six months the board had reviewed information about a medical center.

School Superintendent Tim McGonegal explained to board members that he was impressed by the cost savings and good news he heard from colleagues in St. Johns County school district, where the district there has started a medical clinic.

“There’s a lot of real benefits aside from the fact it can be quite financially successfully,” Allison Zutter, representative of Concentra Total Care told board members. Concentra beat out two other organizations to work on Manatee County Schools medical center.

Members from the district’s budget committee wondered why school officials were gathering information about a medical center. They say the same department that has allowed a deficit of more than $9.4 million to build in the district’s health insurance fund would be the liaison to this medical center.

“If you look at the numbers, the numbers don’t add up,” budget committee member Peggy Martin said. “You’re asking a department that has shown itself to be fiscally irresponsible to be over this health center.”

A 14-page presentation was completed by district officials and representatives from Concentra Total Care. But the information presented was met with concerns and questions from board members. Some board members were dissatisfied that information they requested last year was not forthcoming during the workshop. Community members were equally dissatisfied.

The school district is self-insured. A deficit has been building in the health insurance fund since June 30, 2007, according to school records. Martin and other budget committee members voiced their displeasure about the district’s efforts in last week’s budget committee meeting.

“I’m all for anything that will help cut costs,” resident Mike Becks said. “We already have a medical plan that is $10 million in the hole. They have not properly adjusted the plans and the premiums.”

School board member Julie Aranibar said the district doesn’t have extra money to invest in a clinic.

“I’m only one board member. I can only tell you what I think,” Aranibar said. “If we had extra money and we wanted to offer a benefit to employees, this is a great benefit to offer. We’re not in a position of having extra money. We’re in a position of what should have been done has not been done and the hole has gotten deeper.”

Aranibar said she had not received information she had previously asked for about the clinic set up. Board Chairman Robert Gause also was still looking for a survey of the medical community.

“To me, when you bring all the board together, that’s the time to have everything in place to decide whether or not to move forward. None of what I requested was presented tonight. This is a big impact to this community,” Aranibar said,

No further plans about the medical center have been made for the immediate future.

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