The city of Lexington's first employee wellness center opens Wednesday, a step to reduce health care costs for employees and the city and to improve the health of the work force.
"The goal is to help employees lead healthier lifestyles, which in turn will help reduce the city's health care costs," said Melissa Lueker, the city's project manager for the center.
Healthier employees mean fewer doctor visits.
And when an employee covered by the city's health insurance 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, Lueker said.
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An incentive for employees to use the wellness center is that services will be free. The Dr. Samuel Brown Center for Lexington City Employees and Retirees is at 100 Trade Street, off Leestown Road.
Dr. David French, formerly director of primary care for Toyota Motor Manufacturing in Georgetown, has been hired as medical director and primary-care physician. Other staff include two physician assistants, two medical assistants, a nurse and a receptionist.
An on-site pharmacy, where employees can have prescriptions filled at a reduced rate, is scheduled to open in the next couple of months, Lueker said.
Wellness center hours will be 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. It will remain open until 7 p.m. on Tuesdays and Thursdays and will be open 8 to noon on Saturdays.
The city's new health insurance plan covers about 5,000 city employees, their dependents and retirees, Lueker said.
The city contracted with Marathon Health, based in Colchester, Vt., to run the center. The company operates 83 health care sites for private companies and local governments. Marathon expects 50 percent of employees will average 2.5 visits to the center the first year it is open.
After filling out a medical history, employees can get a health-risk assessment, blood-pressure screening and glucose and cholesterol tests. Women can have pap smears and breast exams. For men, prostate exams will be available.
Staff will offer health care coaching.
"With health coaching, we identify risk factors like pre-diabetes factors; then we take a look with the employee at their diet and lifestyle and how to make improvements," physician assistant Judy Cleary said. "The whole idea is to get people more involved with their health and take more responsibility for their health."
Smoking, obesity and lack of exercise are the three leading causes of all chronic health conditions, including heart disease, diabetes, asthma and hypertension. Tracey Moran, Marathon's marketing director, said 75 percent of all health care costs go toward treating chronic conditions.
An emphasis will be placed on helping employees modify lifestyles to improve their health, Moran said. "If we were able to address those three major risk factors, you would see a decrease in the prevalence of high cholesterol, cancer, diabetes."
The wellness center is at the site of a former University of Kentucky health clinic.
"There has been skepticism about a city-run clinic because employees get the feeling (that) with it comes a sense of 'Big Brother watching me,' " Cleary said. An employee's health information is not accessible by the employer, she said.
"It will be private, like it would be if you were going to a physician in private practice. There is a very secure privacy separation," she said. "I think that is one reason the government hired Marathon, an independent provider, so there is a clear-cut delineation between the employer and the employee."