As early as next year, Brown County Schools’ Eagle Park could be home to a new health clinic.

Initially, the clinic would serve Brown County Schools employees and the family members on their health insurance plans, for a total of 300 people, Superintendent Laura Hammack said.

The school corporation would also like to see participation from the county and town governments, to ensure the clinic could be open five days a week, eight hours a day.

“They could buy into this concept as well and be able to have their employees access this as a potential, which would then translate into us being able to be open for more hours,” Hammack said.

“With more bodies being a part of it, then there’s more ability to sustain it.”

Wellness for Life would operate the clinic, Hammack said.

Wellness for Life is not associated with Columbus Regional Hospital or IU Health, which operate the two existing family practice doctor’s offices in Nashville.

If there is not enough buy-in to open the clinic full-time, Hammack said it would be open two or three days a week.

“What’s unique about us in Brown County is while we don’t have many agencies with lots and lots of employees, this would be something that even a small-business owner could offer to their employees on a per diem sort of calculation, which Wellness for Life is able to do,” Hammack said. She quoted a charge of about $25 for an office visit for non-school employees whose employers decided to participate.

Brown County Commissioners President Dave Anderson said the commissioners have not been formally approached about the clinic yet, nor have they discussed it.

“I know the (county) council would need to get involved with regard to the cost,” he said. “It’s just how probable could it be? Or is it even possible?”

County council President Dave Critser said the county’s involvement would depend on the pricetag.

“I don’t know if we could get our employees going to the clinic or whether it would be beneficial to us or not,” he said. “We’d just have to see how it would be economically.”

He said he would first have to understand how the clinic would work before supporting it. “If it would cut down on our health insurance, of course,” he said.

At the Aug. 17 school board meeting, Hammack said she and others were out at Eagle Park looking at the small building currently used for storage as a possible location for the clinic. Eagle Park is where the district’s soccer, softball and baseball games are played and cross-country meets take place.

About $40,000 worth of renovations would need to be made, including putting up walls for exam rooms and updating the bathroom. Where the money would come from has not been decided yet, but Hammack said it could come from the capital projects fund or from remaining bond dollars.

“What’s amazing is that most clinics across the state are run by a school corporation, but the school districts have to pay rent or purchase property, which is a massive investment on the front end,” Hammack said. “With us having this property and owning this property and not having to worry about parking already is huge. Really, our only initial investment is this remodel.”

How it would work

At minimum, a clinic would need to have one board-certified physician or nurse practitioner, one nurse or qualified medical assistant, 1,000 square feet of space, at least two exam rooms, one prep and storage room attached to a restroom, one restroom and one reception area, she said.

Patients would receive primary care services and have access to a pharmacy, lab services and health and wellness information at the clinic.

When a school employee or their family members go to the clinic, they would not be required to pay for any services or medications. School health plan member premiums would cover the administration costs, she said.

Hammack said employees and their families would save money this way instead of going to an urgent-care clinic.

“Literally, the visits, the pharmaceuticals, the labs, everything would be free. But they like to say it’s kind of ‘free’ in quotation marks. What we’re paying as far as premiums into our health benefits plan, which is a self-funded plan, those premiums are what pay for that service,” she said.

Wellness for Life’s model isn’t based on responsive medicine; it’s focused on preventive medicine, where “being proactive in your health ultimately translates for your health in general,” Hammack said. “But then, selfishly for an organization, we then have healthier employees, which are happier employees, which ultimately translates to the boys and girls.

“If you do come in for a sore throat, great. We can address that issue, but then we’re also going to talk about your body mass index. We’re going to talk about if there is smoking or any other factors that might be negatively affecting somebody’s health and wellness.”

County government was presented with a similar model in March 2014.

A local group, Brown Countians for Quality Healthcare, approached the county council about creating a clinic in an effort to reduce the health care costs of the county’s largest employers. It also would have handled the medical matters of low-income families and people on Medicaid and Medicare.

That proposal didn’t move forward. Critser and Anderson both said they didn’t remember why.

In the meantime, county government has started a wellness program, putting on events like run/walks and golf outings, purchasing FitBits and offering fitness classes to motivate employees to be healthier.

The county used to help fund a walk-in clinic on Locust Lane, between the courthouse and the County Office Building.

It was run by Indiana Health Centers at the time it closed in 2013. The closure was, in part, because the Indianapolis-based nonprofit could not find a full-time physician or nurse practitioner to work here, and because the number of people who used the clinic was low.

Insurance matters

When Hammack took over as superintendent last year, one issue presented to her was the need for a comprehensive examine the school district’s health insurance program.

She established a health insurance committee of teachers, noncertified staff, administrators and school board members Marlene Barnett and Carol Bowden. They meet once a month for two hours.

“One of the things we heard early was the idea that an on-site clinic would allow for our employees to be able to access services quickly and efficiently, so they don’t need to miss a full day of school or a half-day,” she said, adding that there was also a need to access labs quickly and efficiently.

In April, the Brown County School Board of Trustees approved a new health insurance plan with Anthem, and new premiums, along with a Brown County Schools Health Benefit Trust.

The trust allows the school district to build up money to be used for emergency medical situations by raising premiums and school board contributions, Hammack said in April.

Previously, those types of emergency medical bills were paid for out of the schools’ general fund, which has a deficit of more than $1 million.

County government also has recently created a health trust fund to pay for unexpected medical bills, and is considering looking at a different health insurance arrangement to make costs more predictable.

The school district’s health insurance benefit adviser, R.E. Sutton & Associates, said the company had experience with implementing on-site clinics in school districts, helping with 60 across the state, Hammack said.

The district is in the process of entering into a contract with Wellness for Life to be the clinic provider, Hammack said.

“We feel it’s our responsibility to be providing an option that allows for our employees to quickly and efficiently access their needs for health intervention,” she said.

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Suzannah Couch grew up in Brown County, reading the Brown County Democrat. A 2013 Franklin College graduate, she covers business, cops/courts, education and arts/entertainment.