Byline: MARY KELLI PALKA
MONEY SAVED $1 million yearly to the district
COST No co-pay and free in-stock medication
APPOINTMENTS Patients go online to make their own
The waiting room rarely has anyone in it.
There's usually not a reason to wait.
No receptionist sits at the front desk, and don't bother bringing a wallet - there's no bill to pay.
The health center outside Mill Creek Elementary near World Golf Village is unlike anything many of the 150 or so people who visit it each week usually see when they visit a doctor's office.
Last year, St. Johns County Public Schools opened the health center for employees and their family members age 12 and older who participate in the district's health insurance plan.
The district saved about $1 million in the first year on traditional health care costs, which are about $29 million annually, said Jim Springfield, associate superintendent.
He said that covered the initial set up of the center.
It's been so successful, the district is getting ready to open two more centers, at Pedro Menendez and Nease high schools, in a few weeks.
Numerous school districts and government agencies, as well as some private businesses, throughout the country are offering similar services. Putnam and Nassau school districts are among those considering options.
In St. Johns, patients make their own appointments online for a 20-minute visit with a doctor. If they need more time, they can reserve additional 20-minute blocks. If the medication they need is offered and in stock, the health center gives it out at no cost to the patient. And then they head out the door, never paying a co-pay for the visit.
The district contracted with CareHere to open the health center in May 2009 in an effort to keep control of rising health-care costs. It also hoped to encourage employees to visit the doctor when they needed and get necessary medication before minor health issues become major ones.
For Steven Leonard, whose wife works for the district, the center saves his family about $100 a month. He said the savings come mostly from prescription costs since he can pick up his blood pressure medicine for free every three months at the center, after he visits with a doctor.
"This is one of the best plans," he said.
Springfield expects each center to save the district about $1 million each year. That doesn't mean traditional health care costs won't rise, Springfield said, but it shouldn't rise as much with this new service.
Putnam Superintendent Tom Townsend said he doesn't think offering health center services will necessarily save the district money, though it may stop costs from growing as fast. But he said he does think it will encourage employees to get to a doctor faster and fill necessary prescriptions without having to worry as much about money.
Nassau school district already has a well-developed wellness center, and officials feel health centers would be a good next step, said Sharyl Wood, Nassau's executive director of administrative services.
The district is considering putting the first health center in Yulee, but officials are still answering questions from the public about the need for the centers.
Wood said employees could use the services for primary care, and the district hopes they'll take advantage of health management services before they have such issues as diabetes or heart disease.
"We want people to manage their health so they don't need medical services for those kinds of medical conditions," she said. …