The Fort Zumwalt School District in St. Charles County faced a dilemma familiar to other large employers: how to provide employees with high quality health care and reduce costs associated with time lost waiting in the doctor’s office. They decided to try an option that’s been growing in popularity for the past several years.
That option was to open ZumCare, a clinic exclusively for Fort Zumwalt insured health plan members and their dependents. In collaboration with BarnesCare (part of BJC Corporate Health Services), ZumCare provides acute, preventive and primary care, chronic condition management, and X-ray, lab and pharmacy services, with no copays for patients.
ZumCare opened Oct. 3, 2017, and shows early signs of being a success. Not only has the clinic been utilized more than expected in its first three months, but patients have also expressed high satisfaction with the quality and convenience of the care they’ve received. “ZumCare came along at the best time possible,” Fort Zumwalt superintendent Dr. Bernard DuBray says. “It saves our staff money while providing a high quality of care in a very convenient setting.”
Fort Zumwalt’s employee health plan is self-funded, meaning the district is responsible for all costs associated with plan members’ medical claims. While this model can save an employer and employees (and in the case of a school district, the taxpayers) money, an unexpectedly high number of claims or a few large, catastrophic claims can be financially disastrous.
So, to lower the number of claims and to avoid unnecessary doctor and emergency room visits, it makes sense to keep employees and their covered dependents as healthy as possible. A growing number of large school districts and employers across the country have done this by opening on-site or near-site clinics exclusively for employees and their dependents.
Unlike traditional BarnesCare clinics that typically provide occupational medicine services and treat only job-related injuries and conditions, ZumCare offers a spectrum of services, designed not only to treat injuries or illnesses, but just as important, to prevent them and promote wellness and health education for employees and their covered dependents.
Fort Zumwalt district leaders began working with the BarnesCare team about a year ago to design the program. Though BarnesCare has provided occupational health services to more than 1,000 companies in the metro area for decades, ZumCare would be its first full-service employee clinic.
“This was a great opportunity for Fort Zumwalt to give its employees access to high-quality health care and a wide range of resources,” says Patrick Venditti, BarnesCare executive director. “It was also an opportunity for us to broaden our clinical offerings.”
The ZumCare clinic is located within the BarnesCare St. Peters facility, just off of I-70. However, ZumCare has its own registration desk, waiting area, treatment rooms and staff. It shares X-ray and lab facilities with BarnesCare.
Fort Zumwalt employees have responded enthusiastically to this approach, says Venditti. ZumCare’s primary provider is family nurse practitioner Susan Iffrig, RN, CS, FNP. “It is our privilege to serve the employees and families of Fort Zumwalt School District,” says Iffrig. “I answer their questions, educate and provide the time they need to gain a good understanding of how to feel better and live a healthy lifestyle.”
ZumCare averaged more than 300 patient visits a month in its first three months, more than expected. Most visits were for acute problems — flu, sinus infections and chest congestion — as you might expect when employees spend most of their work time in an environment known as a virtual incubator for contagious sicknesses.
Surprisingly, though, a significant number of visits, about 20 percent, were for primary care services. Some of those patients acknowledged that they hadn’t had a primary care provider or seen a physician in years.
But the convenience and not having a copay convinced them to come to ZumCare, says Venditti.
Follow-up surveys have indicated high patient satisfaction with the clinic. Patients seem to appreciate the convenience of same-day appointments and the on-site X-ray, lab and pharmacy services that allow them “one-stop shopping” for health services. Most importantly, they like how the clinic model allows them the time to thoroughly discuss health concerns with Iffrig.
Plans call for adding a second, part-time provider with clinical experience in pediatric care to expand ZumCare’s capacity, says Venditti.
And it looks like ZumCare has already started saving the school district money, he says. Reductions in administrative costs, and especially charges for lab and pharmacy services, have already realized savings.
So far, ZumCare has been a win for the Fort Zumwalt School District and for BarnesCare. But the biggest winners may be the Fort Zumwalt employees who’ve been spending less time in the waiting room and more time in the classroom.