Wellness center has saved Lexington more than $1 million, report says

bfortune@herald-leader.comAugust 29, 2012 

An official with a city-sponsored wellness center for city employees, their dependents and retirees, says it has saved the city more than $1 million in health care costs in its first six months of operation.

The wellness center is free to employees covered by the city's health insurance. When an employee needs to see a primary-care doctor, a visit to the wellness center will cost the city less than if the employee goes to a private physician.

Approximately $400,000 of the savings is equivalent to what the city would have paid if the medical care had been delivered by doctors in the community.

The lion's share of savings comes from health improvements: "people who have gotten their blood pressure under control, lost weight, reduced their cholesterol, addressed pre-diabetes conditions," said Dave Demers, a vice president of Marathon Health, which operates the wellness center.

Improving employees' health results in fewer complications and less use of emergency, hospital and special care, because people have their health care under better control, Demers said.

The four greatest health risks identified in employees who have used the center are high blood pressure, high cholesterol, high blood sugar, and diabetes and obesity.

"The Dr. Samuel Brown Health Care Center is about immediate care, but more significantly, it's about sustained health improvement, because that is where, over time, the major savings will come from," Demers said.

Demers gave the Urban County Council a six-month progress report at its Tuesday work session.

The wellness center, at 100 Trade Street off Newtown Pike, and an on-site pharmacy were opened earlier this year as the city took steps to bring its escalating health care costs under control. The center cost $1.3 million to open; Marathon officials said at the time it was expected to pay for itself the first year. Officials also said it would generate an additional $500,000 in health care savings.

Of the pool of 7,400 employees, dependents and retirees in the plan, about 25 percent have visited the center for primary care needs including physicals, screenings, diagnostic tests and health coaching. Marathon's goal is 50 percent participation in the first year.

A health center survey from those receiving care showed a 90 percent satisfaction rate.

Council members Chuck Ellinger, Steve Kay and Jay McChord gave positive feedback from their visits to the clinic.

Several employee testimonials were included in the report. Among the employees included in the report was a 72-year-old man who is 5-foot-8, weighed 349 pounds and had limited mobility when he first visited the center. To date, he has lost 32 pounds, has improved cardiovascular health and takes the stairs four times a day to his fifth-floor office.

The next step will be implementing an incentive program to encourage more employees to use the wellness center.

McChord said healthier employees "will be good for the (city's) bottom line, but more important, will be good for the employees and their families."

Beverly Fortune: (859) 231-3251.Twitter: @BFortune2010.

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