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Kissimmee city employee clinic making a difference

Posted on Wednesday, October 15, 2014 at 1:00 pm

By Charlie Reed
Staff Writer

Before Kissimmee opened a health and wellness clinic for city employees in 2013, Bill Spinola wasn’t taking good care of himself.

His blood sugar wasn’t under control and his blood pressure was high. The 53-year-old lead computer specialist rarely felt good.

Spinola, who has battled type II diabetes for more than 20 years, was under a physician’s care at the time. But he dreaded the process – a combination of long waits at the doctor’s office, time off work and impersonal care that never seemed to help him feel better.

But the city-sponsored clinic functions in the opposite way, said Spinola, who now looks forward to going to the doctor.

“I don’t want to say it feels like home, but it feels comfortable,” he said. “The doctor is waiting for me when I get in the exam room. I’m not just rushed in an out. I’m not a number anymore.”

What’s more, it’s free. Doctors visits and meetings with health experts available for appointments at the clinic – including a life coach, nutritionist, behavioral counselor and weight loss specialist – cost employees and their dependents nothing. There is also a pharmacy on site that dispenses roughly 250 medications at no cost.

Spinola now has a better handle on his diabetes than ever before. And since he’s added more nutritious foods to his diet and started exercising regularly, he no longer has to take blood pressure medication.

“It is like having a buddy every step of the way,” Spinola said. “But it is actually the entire health clinic standing there for me.”

It’s open to all full-time employees of the city and Toho Water Authority and their dependents, as well as retirees. In the past year about 900 patients have been seen there, according to city officials.

Kissimmee opened the clinic last year to help lower healthcare expenses that have soared over the past decade – a workforce trend seen in the public and private sectors throughout the U.S.

The city will spend $7.6 million this year on its self-contained insurance program, with operating costs for the clinic – a converted office building off Thacker Avenue –at about $560,000. Employees are covered by the city but must pay out of pocket to insure dependents. The city spends almost $500 on health insurance per employee, per month.

“The trick to this is being self-insured because that means the savings comes back to us, not an insurance company, to keep the clinic going,” said Beth Stefek, Director of Personnel and Risk Management for Kissimmee.

The overarching principle behind the clinic is to encourage employees to take better care of themselves. “We want people to want to come to the doctor,” Stefek said.

The savings will come in the long run, said Clay Austin, director of group health for the Florida League of Cities.

Cities throughout the state have opened clinics like the one in Kissimmee, Austin said.

“When you give employees a low-cost or no-cost access to doctors what happens is people go to the doctor after having not been in a long time. They get in there and get full physicals and start monitoring things that might be a little off, like cholesterol or blood pressure. And the patients and doctors actually get time to talk,” Austin said.

“It’s preventative medicine, he said. “It’s big picture thinking, not just a short-term fix to solve rising healthcare costs,” he said.

There are plans to expand services at the clinic in Kissimmee to include workers compensation claims, pre-employment physicals and X-ray services.