Northeast Ohio Schools Open Employee Health Clinics To Cut Costs

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The I Promise School in Akron, Ohio, has gained national attention because it was founded by basketball great Lebron James.The school is known for inventive classroom techniques. But right next door the Akron school district has also been trying to innovate by opening an on-site health care clinic for school employees and their families.

Keith Liechty Clifford, school improvement coordinator, has been a frequent patient since the Paladina clinic opened about a year ago.  It’s optional for district employees, he said.

School employees are offered traditional health insurance by the Akron district and they can choose a different doctor.  But Liechty Clifford can get to the doctor quickly by going through an adjoining door to the I Promise school building.

“It has been just been so convenient for me because I work in the office building right next door,” he said.

This is not an urgent care, said Dr. Kevin Wang, the physician who staffs the clinic five days a week. He calls it the direct primary care model of care.

Since there’s a small, targeted group of patients, it’s easy to get same-day appointments and everything is free for employees and their dependents – including most prescriptions.

“There's nothing out of pocket. So it's like a win-win,” Liechty Clifford said.

I Promise School in Akron known for innovative teaching techniques

Students at the I Promise school in Akron, where the school district has recently opened an on-site employee health care clinic. [Jean-Marie Papoi / ideastream]

All new patients must meet with Dr. Wang for an initial one-hour appointment. The purpose is to go over their medical history and to establish a rapport, Wang said.

Wang is not required by the company to restrict his time with patients when they do come in for a medical visit, he said. And many of the patients have his personal cell number for after hours or weekends.

“I would tell them, you know, don't be shy to call if you're thinking about going to the ER or urgent care. That is when you need to call,” said Wang.

That’s the goal for Akron school officials: to keep their employees from using more expensive places for basic care, like hospital emergency rooms.

School districts and small businesses, faced with ever-rising health care costs, are turning to new models to cut spending, said Ryan Pendleton, Akron school’s chief financial officer.

“It’s a major expenditure and it tends to grow faster with inflation than any other part of our budget," Pendleton said.

Akron schools contracted with the Denver-based Paladina Health. Paladina operates eight others clinics for businesses in Northeast Ohio, including the Lincoln Electric Company, according to company officials.  But Akron is the first school district in Ohio with a Paladina clinic on the school grounds.

“We put about a million dollars into this investment up front, but we're just past break[ing] even,” Pendleton said.

Another Northeast Ohio school district has also turned to this direct primary care model. The Mayfield School District opened a facility run by Cleveland Clinic about five years ago.

Physician assistant Nancy Ivansck staffs the clinic three days a week.

“If by chance I was to order some kind of testing, like an X-ray or blood work that I had to send it out, that would be billed to their insurance. But anything we do on site, including immunizations, are free,” Ivansck said.

Carla Spiccia, attendance secretary at the high school just across the parking lot from the clinic, started using it for her primary care as soon as the doors opened, she said.

Some of her co-workers don’t use the clinic because they already have a family doctor. Others are resistant to change, but she said the clinic has been a godsend for her and her family.

“Back in the day, you had one doctor that saw you for everything, and now the medical field has changed dramatically. You've got doctors for every tiny little thing. So she knows me. She knows my family,” Spiccia said.

Some 550 employees and their family members use the clinic, said Scott Snyder, Mayfield school’s treasurer. It has helped employees and the school district control health care costs, he said.Physician Assistant  Nancy Ivansck meets with Carla Spiceia (Jean-Marie Papoi /ideastream)

Cleveland Clinic physician assistant Nancy Ivansck talks to patient Carla Spiccia at the Mayfield School District's Wildcat Clinic [Jean-Marie Papoi / ideastream]

“We are seeing about a 6 percent reduction year-over-year,” Snyder said. 

Escalating health care costs are impacting schools and businesses every day, said Thomas Campanella, a professor at Baldwin Wallace University. Campanella, who researches health care finance, says this trend of businesses becoming more proactive and opening their own primary care clinics started several years ago. It is blossoming across the country because they save money but also keep employees healthy, he said.

“From an employer standpoint, the other advantage is that when they're healthy, they're showing up for work. So there's less absenteeism. When they're healthy, they're more productive. So the employer benefits that way,” Campanella said.

Spiccia agrees that the clinic has helped her stay healthy. The fact that she and the teachers at the high school can pop over to the clinic during lunch or before school encourages them to come to work – even on days they’re not feeling their best.


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