Educators could soon get free or low-cost care as Hamilton County Schools looks to add employee health clinics

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Hamilton County Schools district leaders are exploring the possibility of establishing on-site health clinics for teachers and district employees in the coming year.

Educators might soon be able to access free or low-cost health care at two or more locations in the district, based on a conversation the county's school board had Thursday night.

The district is currently evaluating bids from nine potential providers, and leaders plan on making a recommendation to the board next month.

The clinics would include on-site pharmacies and be staffed by one to two nurse practitioners, according to the district's chief talent officer, Keith Fogleman.

Telemedicine opportunities, staggered clinic hours, primary care services and additional health risk and wellness programs would also be services from which employees would be able to benefit, Fogleman said.

"From an employee wellness standpoint, this is a big area, a big opportunity for us," he told the school board Thursday. "When we start looking at some of our insurance information, we've got 46% of our [insurance] members, which includes employees and dependents, that have two or more high-risk health factors."

High risk factors include conditions like high blood pressure, cardiac issues, diabetes and other conditions that can become costly for employees and the district's self-insured insurance fund.

"Wellness is a big issue in this approach moving forward," Fogleman said. "As employees go, they will be getting more bang for their buck with this convenience. [The district] has the opportunity that we aren't paying for emergency room visits or urgent care visits."

Fogleman and interim chief finance officer Brent Goldberg said the district has studied Hamilton County's own on-site clinic program, as well as a program established by Sumner County Schools in Gallatin, Tennessee, in 2016.

Initial start-up costs would be between $2 million and $3 million, but would come out of the district's insurance fund, which is funded by employee insurance premiums, rather than from the general operating budget.

Similar programs see a return on the initial start-up costs within two to three years, Goldberg said, but Sumner County Schools actually saw $1.5 million of savings within a year of establishing its first clinic.

Hamilton County has seen an annual trend of about 2.9 percent in cost avoidance savings since it established a clinic in 2013, according to Goldberg.

Superintendent Bryan Johnson said he had taken advantage of such services himself in his previous school district, Clarksville-Montgomery County School System and emphasized the need for the district to begin to offer such benefits to employees.

"In the system we had it, we had one main clinic and several satellite clinics," Johnson said. "We have to begin to change behavior and encourage our employees to getting to use the clinic. I'd go three or four times before I even went to the doctor."

District 3 school board member Joe Smith echoed Johnson and said an employer as large as the school district - which employs more than 6,000 people - needs to offer high quality benefits to remain competitive.

District 2 school board member Kathy Lennon said the need for better health care benefits was one of the concerns she heard from teachers during the superintendent's listening sessions this spring.

District 9 school board member Steve Highlander also commended Fogleman and his human resources department for looking into the programs.

"It's a win-win - a win for health, a win for attendance, a win for our employees," Highlander said.

Fogleman and Goldberg noted that the district will have to evaluate if it will utilize current properties for these clinics, depending on location, once it settles on a vendor.

The list of nine vendors will not be publicly available until the board approves a vendor under the sealed bid process, according to Goldberg.

Contact staff writer Meghan Mangrum at [email protected] or 423-757-6592. Follow her on Twitter @memangrum.