From The Virginian Pilot

CHESAPEAKE, VA--

The school division this summer is expanding a popular – and unusual – program for its employees.

In June, the division opened a health center on Botetourt Court, near Battlefield Boulevard. In mid-August, a second center is scheduled to open in the Washington Shoppes on Old George Washington Highway.

The centers will provide free health care services, with options for employees, retirees and dependents. Offerings include diagnosis and treatment of minor injuries and illnesses. Clients can also get coaching on issues such as diet, exercise and stress, as well as heart disease, diabetes and other illnesses.

Division officials hope the service will not only boost morale, but will save money by getting employees healthier and addressing problems before they grow serious and potentially lead to catastrophic claims.

“What we are trying to do is be proactive,” said Jim Ward, the division’s director of financial services and risk management.

This is not the division’s first trip into the medical world. In 2013, Chesapeake opened its own pharmacies.

Two centers, operated by a company specializing in employer-sponsored facilities, offer co-pays at a reduced rate, as well as over-the-counter items such as diapers and sunscreen. The division saves money by cutting out middlemen in the purchasing process.

Division officials were nervous when the pharmacies opened because, to reach their savings goal, they needed 50 percent of employees’ subscriptions to be filled at those sites. Also, only a handful of school systems across the nation had tried such health care experiments.

But the results have exceeded their hopes – the division saved roughly $4.6 million last year, Ward said.

The pharmacies also have pleased employees. Toney McNair, a music teacher at Indian River Middle School and president-elect of the Chesapeake Education Association, said he uses the facilities regularly for himself and his family. He praised both the cost savings and the quality of care.

“It’s just a great atmosphere when you walk in the door,” McNair said.

The division began exploring the option of pharmacies in 2008. The topic of health centers also came up then, and the pharmacies’ success encouraged officials to move forward.

It cost about $125,000 to get the health centers ready, Ward said. They are operated by Marathon Health, a Vermont-based company that specializes in workplace health facilities. Nurse practitioners and medical assistants will be on hand.

The division hopes the centers will reduce employee absenteeism. One gauge of success will be how they impact the division’s anticipated health care expenses, Ward said.

The Botetourt center opened the week of high school graduations. Ward wasn’t sure how busy it would be as summer vacation arrived, but it has seen a steady flow of users, with most visits lasting about 30 minutes, he said. It also has increased business at the nearby pharmacy.

McNair anticipates the health centers extending the atmosphere he finds at the pharmacies. Both centers are only a few steps from the pharmacies, making it convenient to stop by two facilities in one trip.

“It gives us options, and that’s a positive thing,” McNair said.

http://pilotonline.com/news/local/education/chesapeake-s-school-division-adding-health-centers-to-popular-pharmacy/article_2a99e031-d669-5ea3-9d52-469d6986ee83.html

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