East Lyme considers health clinic for town employees

East Lyme — The town is considering giving its employees the option to receive primary care services and medical tests in a designated clinic - likely in a town building - under a recent proposal.

The Board of Selectmen is exploring a contract with CareHere, a company that manages occupational health or primary care services for employees in or near their workplaces. The company's representatives presented it to the board at Wednesday's meeting.

Installing a clinic would save money and offer other benefits for the town, which has a self-insured medical plan, the representatives told the board. The clinic would make it easier for employees to get to appointments, provide "controllable-cost" medical services and offer wellness programs designed to prevent medical issues from becoming chronic, they said.

Founded in 2004, CareHere is a privately owned, for-profit company with more than 200 employees, according to its LinkedIn page. It is based in Brentwood, Tenn.

The clinic would charge the town a per-month, per-employee management cost plus a flat fee for the initial startup costs. By moving about 40 percent of employee medical visits to the clinic, CareHere said it estimates it could save the town a net $118,000 in the first year. In addition, the company anticipates the town would realize additional savings due to increased workplace productivity.

CareHere said it saves employees time by offering appointments in 20-minute intervals with little waiting time and at a location close to work. In the long term, it said it would save the town money with preventive measures that improve employees' health.

The clinic would be tailored to the town. For example, the clinic could have an on-staff physician and nurse each work 16 hours per week, with additional hours for the nurse to follow up on appointments, according to the presentation.

Clinic visits are typically less expensive to the town than visits to an outside primary care provider, said Jessica Ricks, a CareHere representative.

The company, which operates 163 clinics across the country for employees and their dependents, said it offers lab tests and medications at a lower cost. The company has a national contract with LabCorp for reduced-rate blood and lab tests. Clinic staff can also dispense generic medications to patients, typically with no co-payment, unless the patient has a high-deductible health plan, according to the presentation.

"Typically for anything that happens within the four walls of this clinic, there is no co-payment," Ricks said.

Patients would first undergo a blood test "health-risk assessment" to establish a baseline, said Ricks. The patients would then be encouraged to meet with a provider and referred to wellness health management programs, ranging from smoking cessation to nutritional counseling. The wellness programs are designed to prevent health issues from becoming chronic, according to Ricks.

The company shares aggregate reports on health care, compliant with the federal Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, with the town and also monitors how many hours the clinic should be open each week, said Ricks. She said no personal health information is shared.

First Selectman Paul Formica said the program, which offers "cost efficiencies" and prevents costs through case-management programs, comes at a time when many individual medical practices are being absorbed by the hospital system. He called it a "win-win" because it both benefits employees and reduces costs for the town.

The selectmen asked many questions of the company - whether people would be able to still receive brand-name drugs and whether employees would be able to keep their primary care doctors.

Under the program, doctors could still write prescriptions for patients and employees can opt to still see their primary care doctors and could continue to see specialists or visit the hospital.

Selectwoman Rose Ann Hardy said she would like more information on the costs to start up and maintain the clinic, which would likely be placed in a town building, to see if any costs weren't factored in.

If the board proceeds with the proposal, Formica suggested holding meetings with town employees and the selectmen to decide how the clinic should be designed. Formica said mayors and selectmen of nearby communities that are self-insured have also expressed interest in the idea. The town could also share a clinic with self-insured companies in the area.

The Board of Selectmen will likely take a vote at its next meeting at 7:30 p.m. on June 4 at Town Hall.

k.drelich@theday.com

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