Large employer in London opened its own primary-care clinic and is reaping rewards in cost savings and healthier employees

Angie Patton, health and wellness director, and Winston
Griffin, CEO of Laurel Grocery Co., in one of its on-site
clinic rooms. Photo: Bill Estep, Lexington Herald-Leader
The rising cost of employee health care prompted a large, self-insured employer in London to open a primary-care clinic that saved the firm money and made its employee healthier, Bill Estep reports for the Lexington Herald-Leader.

Laurel Grocery Co. has been in business since 1922 and is a wholesale supplier to stores in nine states. It has about 250 employees.

CEO Winston Griffin told Estep the company realized in 2013 that the cost to cover its employees was trending up, from just under $140 per employee per week in 2011 to more than $160 in 2012 and $180 in 2013. “We had to do something to try to reverse that trend,” he said.

Griffin created Connected Care, a primary-care clinic that is run for a flat fee by KentuckyOne Health, which operates the local hospital. A physician is at the location once a week, a nurse-practitioner two days a week, and a manager with a public-health degree is there full time. Among other things, she runs a wellness program for employees.

The clinic is available to employees and their families free of charge and covers any service a primary-care physician would provide. In addition, Laurel Grocery provides more than 75 generic prescription drugs at cost. “The goal of the clinic is to improve the health of the company’s workforce and, in doing so, cut health-care costs,” Estep reports.

Statistics show the goal is being met. Employee health screenings in 2013 found that 80 percent of had high blood pressure, nearly 40 percent used tobacco, 55 percent had high cholesterol and 38 percent did not have a primary-care provider.

Since the clinic opened in June 2014, 148 of the 250 employees have improved their blood pressure, 54 lost weight, 75 improved their blood-sugar level and 20 quit using tobacco, Estep reports. And based on a calculation of costs avoided because of improved health measures, a consultant projected the company has saved about $1.2 million.

In addition, the company provides incentives for employees to get physicals and preventive screenings, like colonoscopies. For example, the company pays 100 percent of the cost of health-insurance policies for employees and spouses who take part in an annual physical.

Griffin also calculated that the clinic has saved $195,000 a year in lost work productivity, telling Estep that that gain alone covers the fixed cost of the clinic.

Eddie Goforth, 50, is one of the clinic’s success stories. He told Estep that he had worked at the company for nine years and was “overweight, had high blood pressure and diabetes and rarely went to the doctor.” He said he went to the clinic because of its convenience, and ended up participating in an exercise and diet program. And in just over three months, he has lost 35 pounds, taken five inches off his waist, reduced his blood pressure and cut his blood-sugar level.

Laurel Grocery is not alone in opening its own health clinic. Larry Boress, executive director of the National Association of Worksite Health Centers, told Estep that about 30 percent of employers in the U.S. offer some form of health service to their employees, not including fitness centers.

“It clearly is being driven by productivity issues,” Boress said. “You’re improving health, keeping people on the job.”

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