MANATEE -- An on-site health and wellness center would create an environment for comprehensive care for Manatee County employees and their families, according to a county official.
To continue on the county's concept of "spend a little to save a lot" in regard to employee health benefits, county officials are proposing a public/private partnership to create an onsite health and wellness clinic in the old Merrill Lynch building on Manatee Avenue West adjacent to the County Administration Building in Bradenton.
"We believe the addition of a physician provider will complete that circle of total comprehensive care," Kim Stroud, the county's employee health benefits division manager, told commissioners Tuesday.
During a work session Tuesday, Manatee County commissioners, some of whom were wary about the idea, discussed the clinic proposal and heard the results of a feasibility study conducted by Aon Hewitt to determine the return on investment.
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The study found that the cost to open a clinic would break even in three or four years, depending on how many employees use the clinic. The study estimated that it would cost $800,000 per year to operate the clinic, which would be paid from the healthcare reserve balance and not affect taxpayers, Stroud said.
"You can provide that care in your clinic cheaper than it would cost out in the community," Tim McDonald, Aon Hewitt's senior vice president, said.
While Aon Hewitt estimated the total start-up and implementation cost to be $275,000, the county said renovating the 21,000-square foot Merrill Lynch building would cost $3.2 million. Charlie Bishop, the county's property management department director, said the clinic would be a "very small portion" of the whole building.
The onsite clinic would incorporate what the county already provides its employees and continue to "lower our healthcare costs and maximize our employees' health," according to agenda materials.
"It's the inclusion of a medical provider into what we are already doing," Stroud said. "The intention is not to take people away from established relationships."
Some of Manatee County's medical community expressed their concerns with the proposal on Tuesday.
Dr. Aaron Sudbury, legislative liaison for the Manatee County Medical Society, said the clinic would relegate county employees to substandard care.
"We've got a problem with the indigent care that we could be taking care of," Sudbury said. "You probably want to establish the problem and figure out a solution for it instead of creating a problem because you have a solution you want to put in place."
Commissioner Carol Whitmore, a registered nurse, said she didn't agree with establishing an on-site clinic.
"I have a real problem in my heart and soul when I see medical providers all over the county taking care of our employees as well as uninsured and underinsured and then us getting an in-house clinic," she said. "I just don't think it's the time to proceed down this path."
Commissioner Robin DiSabatino said the county does "enjoy a wonderful healthcare plan," but this is separating themselves too much from the general population.
"My mind is wrapped around helping the community," she said. "It's kind of unsettling right now."
Commissioner Vanessa Baugh said the proposal isn't about taking any business away from other providers.
"This is about giving better service to our employees at a lower cost," she said. "I don't think this is taking anything away from the public. I don't think this takes our minds off the healthcare issue in front of us. If anything, it may help us. ... We need to do the best we can not just for employees of the county but for indigent care."
Officials assured the commissioners that this is a parallel endeavor to the indigent healthcare discussion. On Sept. 15, the commission will have another work session to discuss that.
Dan Schlandt, deputy county administrator, said the on-site clinic "should be in the long term be a very good decision for us."
"It's part of this whole model that we are trying to build," Schlandt said. "We are trying to set a model that people can see that you can actually get good results from what we are doing."
Claire Aronson, Manatee County reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7024. Follow her on Twitter@Claire_Aronson.