MANATEE -- A proposal to open an on-site health and wellness center for Manatee County government employees and their families has spurred some concern from the medical community.
But a county official said it would be inaccurate to say that the clinic, which is being proposed to be built in the old Merill Lynch building on Manatee Avenue West adjacent to the County Administration Building in Bradenton, would be taking patients away from community based physicians as the on-site clinic wouldn't provide speciality care.
"It's not saying that our local providers are not quality providers and that we can do it better," said Kim Stroud, the county's employee health benefits division manager. "That's an assumption that is inaccurate. On-site clinic model has the capability of chasing after the patient and engaging them in the program."
During a work session Tuesday, Manatee County commissioners discussed the clinic proposal and heard from Aon Hewitt, who conducted a feasibility study. The commission discussed the proposal at a work session last September. Since Tuesday's meeting was a work session, there was no action taken, and County Administrator Ed Hunzeker said the proposal will come before the commission at a future regular meeting for possible action. If approved, the county would then put out a request for proposal to have a third-party operate the clinic.
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The study estimated that it would cost $800,000 per year to operate the clinic, which would be paid from the healthcare reserve balance. The cost to renovate the 21,000-square foot Merrill Lynch building be approximately $3 million, and the clinic would take up about 2,300-square-feet of the building.
Commissioner Carol Whitmore, who is a registered nurse, expressed many concerns about the proposal, which she said she didn't agree with.
"I've never heard of issues with our medical community," Whitmore said.
The use of the old Merrill Lynch building was also a concern to Whitmore.
"To take this prime property downtown, I think is a travesty," she said.
Commission Chairwoman Vanessa Baugh said while she is concerned about the large cost associated with the proposal, she thinks it is worth the risk.
"We have a responsibility to our employees to make sure they get the best possible care that we can afford to give them," she said. "As a community, we are all in this together. Our employees right now is our responsibility. We have to give the best possible service that we can. I can see how it would be advantageous to our employees. We have to think of them first."
Inda Mowett, a doctor and representative of the Manatee County Medical Society, said most of the doctors are concerned about what other services are going to be added down the road.
"I see many other direct competitions with other doctors in the community," she said, adding why not open the doors to also offer care to the indigent population.
Approximately 15 to 20 percent of patients of Manatee County doctors are county employees, Mowett said.
"So having an on-site clinic of this magnitude will affect the number of patients going to the practice," she said.
Some members of the medical community presented an alternative proposal to commissioners during public comment Tuesday. The proposal would include more than one center in Manatee County and expand to multiple employers in the area.
Local doctor Fabian Ramos said the model is to invite every primary care doctor in town to be a part owner of the clinic.
"Here in town you have the local physicians ready to step up and deliver exactly what the county needs: quality care and cost savings," he said, encouraging the commission to support the physicians in town.
Dr. Xavier Sevilla, president of MyManateeDoctors and a local doctor, said they look forward to the procurement process "where like everybody else we can have our turn."
"We are committed to this model," he said. "We really think this is going to revolutionize health care in Manatee County. We want to provide high quality of care at affordable price."
For Manatee County government to participate in the alternative proposal, it would be a step backwards, Stroud said.
"Do I think the model is an amazing opportunity for this community of Manatee County and some smaller employers? Absolutely," she said. "It is reflective of what we've been doing for the past 10 to 15 years. For us, we've been there, done that. It's focusing on preventative care. It's focusing on engagement."
Claire Aronson, Manatee County reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7024. Follow her on Twitter@Claire_Aronson.