Pasco school district clinics
bring big health care savings
By Jeffrey S. Solochek, Times Staff Writer
Tampa Bay Times
Jan. 26, 2013
Dade City — Lose weight.
Rita Mitchell had heard the words many times before.
But it wasn’t until the Cox Elementary School prekindergarten teacher got the advice during a health risk assessment at the Pasco County school district’s wellness center that she took the message to heart. Mitchell learned she was at risk for diabetes, and heard loud and clear what ignoring the signs could mean.
“It was enough to get my attention,” she said. “This thing, if left unattended, it can kill you. She told me to lose weight. I’ve been hearing that for years. But it was like, hello.”
Flash forward a year, and Mitchell is a new woman.
“I just turned 50, and I lost 50,” she said. “I am excited.”
Her success mirrors that of many other district employees, and of the health clinic program that the school district introduced two years ago.
The School Board approved spending about $1.5 million a year to operate three school-based clinics, offering free appointments and medications, in addition to preventive wellness programs for employees. The idea was that the district would save money in the long run by reducing insurance claims and related expenses.
Last year, the district saw its claims drop by more than $2 million, with per-employee costs down by nearly 5 percent. Its rates did not increase as much as expected, allowing the board to use savings to reduce the number of furlough days imposed on employees.
Its focus on diabetes care resulted in a 34 percent decrease in related claims, and the district saw a 26 percent increase in diabetes patients actually getting the monitoring tests they need. Its efforts on weight reduction, expected to net about 1,000 pounds among participants, totaled a loss of 3,800 pounds by those employees.
Use of the centers has been so strong, in fact, that the district is considering opening two others, as well as a center focused on occupational health and physical therapy. District benefits director Mary Tillman said they had to add staff to the centers over the summer to meet the growing demand.
With medical costs rising, Tillman said, the only real way to cut expenses is to get people healthy. Making visits convenient and affordable, while focusing on managing chronic illnesses and catching problems before they get out of hand, has allowed the district to make such strides.
“I’m very proud of our wellness centers,” said School Board chairwoman Cynthia Armstrong, who sits on the district health and wellness incentives committee. “I really feel like it’s been a win-win situation for the district and the employees.”
Armstrong said she and her husband both take advantage of the services the clinics offer, and can see firsthand the benefits. Other districts have started looking at Pasco as a model, she added, as they consider establishing their own wellness programs….See Tampa Bay Times for this full story.
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