Brooklyn Center schools save money with free health clinics

/ 22 April 2012 / jennifer

Maria Elena Baca, Star Tribune, April 22, 2012 –

The Brooklyn Center School District operates health clinics at the high school and at Earle Brown Elementary, providing free care for district employees and their families.2: The high school facility opened in mid-April 2010; the one at the elementary followed by the fall.</p>

2: Initial months of operation paid for by NeoPath Health Inc.

$15,000: The monthly cost to the district

450: Employees and family members eligible for care

1,900: Visits from April 2010 to February 2012

500: Generic, free prescriptions dispensed each month

3: Percent drop in district insurance premiums, as of October. They had been projected to increase 7 percent

$71,000: District savings from current premium, and $239,000 from a projected increase

$299,000: Savings in claims to insurer (Medica)


Two on-site facilities have meant healthier staff, lower premiums.

At a time when employers and workers are wrestling with ever-increasing health care premiums, the Brooklyn Center school district has managed a reduction.

The district fended off a 7 percent increase in premiums for its 300 staff members, by applying the success of two free, on-site medical clinics to negotiate a 3 percent decrease instead, which will, in turn, trim $71,000 from the district’s $2.4 million annual health care bill.

The clinics opened two years ago at Brooklyn Center High School and Earle Brown Elementary, launched by NeoPath Health Inc. of St. Louis Park. District staff members and their families can use the clinics for anything from a routine checkup to simple surgical procedures to getting prescriptions for generic medications.

NeoPath has since opened clinics in schools in Farmington, St. Francis and Robbinsdale. There may be others in the pipeline, said president Joe McErlane.

The Brooklyn Center district pays NeoPath about $180,000 a year to operate the clinics. For that sum, it gets Dr. Heidi Gunn for eight hours a week and a nurse’s services for 16 hours, plus examination and lab equipment and clinic administration.

Whether the clinics are paying for themselves depends on one’s perspective, said Al Hofstede Jr., vice president of consulting for Corporate Health Systems, which manages the district’s benefits. The $71,000 decrease in premiums is well short of the yearly clinic expense. However, adding the difference between that decrease and the projected premium increase that will no longer be needed, the savings is $225,000 – more than enough to offset the cost.

In addition, there are less easily measured benefits, including better control of such chronic conditions as diabetes and high blood pressure, early treatment or detection of problems, and less absenteeism. Gunn says teachers, administrators, bus drivers and others are healthier than when she arrived in 2010.

A number of Minnesota employers offer onsite clinics for their employees, and the trend has been growing in recent years, as companies try to rein in costs, increase productivity and retain workers.

“We’ve spent many decades organizing health care around the provider, and instead we should be providing health care around the patients,” said independent health care consultant Ann Robinow, president of Robinow Health Care Consulting “… This is one way to meet people where they live or, in this case, where they work. It’s a more patient-centered way of delivering care.”

At the clinic

At the Earle Brown clinic, music teacher Cathy Bufis grimaced as Gunn slipped a needle into her knee joint, a steroid injection to treat degenerative joint disease. That and recurring bone infection once cost her weeks of sick time and thousands in co-pays for treatments at the Mayo Clinic. With Gunn in her school once a week, the two have managed her condition so well she hasn’t been sick enough to miss work since a flareup last fall.

Bus driver Jodie Jagodzinski had her quarterly contraceptive shot in the few minutes before her after-school duties began.

Family Resource Room Coordinator Marit Kaltved’s husband, Doug, came in to have a mole removed from his face. That was a procedure that they were told could have cost thousands, Marit Kaltved said. Done at the clinic, it cost them nothing.

Recently, Medica, the district’s insurer, has deepened its involvement in the clinics by providing a health coach. It also has contributed toward the operations of the clinic.

“We have now become partners with our insurance company,” said Superintendent Keith Lester, recalling the day he came upon Medica and NeoPath representatives, the health coach and Gunn, deep in conversation. “This is what it’s about. It’s a partnership between all our health care people and us.”

In the first full year of the clinics, as care shifted from clinics that Medica covers to the schools, the insurer saw claims drop about $300,000.

Over two years, Gunn has created community clinics that she said feel a lot like the small-town practice she ran for years in Little Falls. Each of her patients has access to her mobile phone number, for the days when she’s not there.

Although appointments are set in half-hour blocks, people just pop in, she said, with quick questions, or for a high-five on a pound lost or another day without a cigarette. Co-workers send each other to the clinic, and there have been times when Gunn has sent them home or to the emergency room.

Bufis, the music teacher, said the convenience of the clinic makes her a better advocate for her own health.

“I probably take better care of myself and don’t ignore things as long,” she said, adding that there was a time when she’d push herself until she ended up in the hospital, or at home hooked to IVs, needing additional home health care.

Not anymore. “I’ll make sure she’s OK,” Gunn said, smiling. “People don’t put things off. They say, ‘You know me better after two visits than my doctor of 10 years.’”

Maria Elena Baca • 612-673-4409