Cooperation trumps $550,000 for county wellness center

Cooperation trumps $550,000 for county wellness center

August 14th, 2013 in Opinion Free Press

The city's health center was completed late last year.

Last week, the Hamilton County Commission approved a resolution to open a $550,000 health clinic for county employees. When concern was expressed that such a health clinic would duplicate services already being provided by the city, Hamilton County Human Resources Director Leslie Longshore explained that county and city governments are two separate entities with separate health benefits, separate health insurance and different goals. The county and the city are "separate in what they do," County Mayor Jim Coppinger agreed.

But are the county and city so different that providing basic health clinic services to the two groups of local government employees necessitates the county renovating and funding a half-million dollar service so that each gets it own "separate" clinic? While the two governments remain distinct, sharing an employee health facility to save taxpayers half a million dollars doesn't seem like much of a problem: especially when the purposes of the clinic and the reasons for building the proposed facility are considered.

One of the primary benefits of the new clinic, proponents argued at the County Commission meeting on the first of this month, is its convenient location and availability to county employees. The now-approved clinic would be built in addition to the county's already-existing pharmacy in the McDaniel Building, which houses the county's accounting, finance, and purchasing divisions. The McDaniel Building, on North Highland Park Avenue, is less than two miles from the already-functioning, $4.1 million city health and wellness facility that provides the same type of care programs the county's new clinic will -- plus many more. The 20,000-square-foot city health and wellness facility opened in February, and averages 130-140 daily visitors. "We have the space available to offer more," Jenny Lowry, the city's wellness and safety manager told the Times Free Press in June.

Questioning from commissioners during the proposal for the clinic probed incentives for employees to actually use the clinic. Other than the convenience of the location, the chiefly mentioned incentive is the low or no co-pay for employees to use the facility. Hamilton County employees already are on health insurance benefits that allow them to choose whatever healthcare facilities best meet their needs. Advocates for the new clinic stated that employees would still be able to continue care with their current doctors: the new clinic would just offer more help, and assist in education about wellness and illness prevention.

Did the county and the city even sit down and discuss the county employees using the brand new city facility? "No," Mayor Coppinger stated. "There was no discussion."

The real motivation behind this new and unnecessary spending spree is apparently the county's benefits competition with the city, and the unwillingness of both entities to cooperate because they dread the thought of consolidated, efficient government.

Cooperation doesn't require blurring lines of authority, though. And it would save taxpayers half a million dollars.

Vivian Hughbanks is a Times Free Press editorial intern and a student of politics and journalism at Hillsdale College in Michigan.