Health Forward Foundation

KC-Area School Districts Hoping New Wellness Center Pays Many Dividends

BLUE SPRINGS, Mo. — Four Kansas City-area school districts are partnering on a wellness clinic with the goal of making treatment more accessible to their employees while reducing worker absenteeism and health insurance costs.

The wellness center is at the Blue Springs School District’s Paul J. Consiglio Education Center, 1501 N.W. Jefferson St.

The other partner districts are Grain Valley, Lone Jack and Smithville. Combined enrollment of the four districts is about 20,500 students with Blue Springs accounting for about two-thirds.

The clinic is open six days a week, including some evening hours. It is free for most district employees. Walk-ins are welcomed and non-covered dependents are treated for a $40 fee.

Officials said the center has had more than 3,000 visits since it opened the third week of August. The staff includes two doctors and five nurse practitioners.

“I’d like to think we’re a readily accessible point of care for our patients,” said Dr. Douglas Kelling, the medical director and an experienced emergency room physician. “We like to get them seen quickly. We like to get folks back to work quickly.”

Most cases, he said, involved conditions such as sinus infections, bronchitis, the flu, and seasonal allergies. But the center also can treat minor emergencies, Kelling said, though serious cases are sent to a hospital emergency room.

In one of the center’s earliest cases, he said, staff told a diabetic with a seriously ulcerated foot that he needed immediate care. Doctors would have needed to amputate the foot had the patient waited any longer, Kelling said.

The center is a “convenient care” facility designed to avoid the waits patients might experience at their own doctors’ offices, said Shawn Roderick, director of employee benefits for the Blue Springs School District, but it is not intended to replace the workers’ relationships with their primary care doctors.

It will take at least six months to see if the cost-saving projections for the districts are realized, he said.

But here is an example of the multiple benefits, district officials anticipate:

A teacher brings her sick child to the center first thing in the morning, gets right in, and walks out ready to pick up a prescription at the pharmacy.

The teacher gets to her classroom by mid-morning unburdened by worries about her child. The health plan, meanwhile, has avoided a potentially costly claim by treating a sinus infection before it developed into pneumonia, which in turn might cause the teacher an extended absence from work.

The starting point for the collaboration among the school districts, Roderick said, was their participation in a self-insurance pool established by the Cooperating School Districts of Greater Kansas City, a 30-district co-op.

As a way to gain greater control of health-care costs, self-insured organizations take on some of the functions of a health insurance company, including tasks such as collecting premiums and paying claims.

Self-insured groups typically assume greater risk because they lack the financial resources of a large insurance company and are less able to handle expensive claims or costly years with a lot of demands for service.

Roderick said the wellness center was part of the innovation spurred by federal health care reform.

“You have to find ways to not just play on the margins anymore,” he said. “You have to really get some real savings and mitigate real costs and this is one of the ways we thought we could do that.”

The wellness center could be cost effective, Roderick said, in part because Blue Springs already owns the building. The health plan spent about $95,000 in startup costs for the clinic.

Usage has been strong so far, he said, noting it will take about 500 visits per month to justify the center’s costs.

Monday morning before Thanksgiving, Heather Sallee was at the clinic to get treated for a cold.

A third-grade teacher in the Blue Springs district, Sallee said she set up her classroom at about 8:30 a.m., ran over to the clinic, and expected to be back at school no later than 10:30 a.m.

“I’m sure I would not have been able to get into to see my (regular) doctor until tomorrow,” she said.

Don Tatman is a Leawood-based health care consultant who works with self-insured school districts in Missouri.

He said the wellness center was a “cutting edge move” that stood apart from the efforts of other districts he has worked with.

“I have seen a lot of school districts kind of burying their head in the sand over health care reform and doing nothing,” Tatman said. “You don’t see a lot of innovation taking place right now. You see a lot of struggle to comply.”

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