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Newton: Albany health clinic should translate into savings

Photo by Carly Farrell

Photo by Carly Farrell

ALBAN, Ga. -- While the proposed home for the city's planned employee health clinic may be a controversial topic, Albany Finance Director Kris Newton says the clinic itself should be a money-saver while helping city employees stay healthy.

Comments have swirled after The Albany Herald first reported at albanyherald.com Tuesday the City Commission's tentative vote in support of allowing cable company Mediacom to pay off $139,000 it owes in unpaid franchise fees and penalties to the city by giving its former headquarters at 509 Flint Ave. to the city.

The property, which tax appraisals have put at $216,000 and which Newton says Mediacom officials contend was given a real estate appraisal near $300,000, needs a new roof and additional maintenance, which is expected to cost the city more than $60,000 to repair.

Tuesday, Newton told the commission that city staff have eyed the property as a possible home to a planned employee health clinic which she said would have the ability to save the city significantly through reductions in employee health care costs -- an important factor given that the city is self-insured.

Newton said Wednesday that the city is close to hammering out a contract with a vendor whom she wouldn't name other than to say it is a national company with hundreds of similar clinics around the nation.

The concept is relatively simple she said.

"The savings would come from several areas, but mostly due to reductions in absenteeism since employees wouldn't have to spend large quantities of time out of the office sick, increased productivity and the biggest area would be a reduction to our cost because people wouldn't run to the emergency room every time they got sick," she said.

The current concept is that employees would be made to take a health assessment, which would include evaluations of the employee's diet, activity levels and a biometric scan.

Employees would then have the option to join the clinic, which would provide most of their prescriptions for free as well as provide health counseling to help reduce or prevent chronic diseases.

It's through this emphasis on preventative care that Newton believes the city will reap financial benefits.

"It's much less expensive to get routine physicals and discover that you have high blood pressure than to wait and have a stroke," Newton said. "It's also less expensive for us, since the city is self-insured."

Newton said that a study was conducted on the medical trends of city employees and revealed that they were too dependent on services such as Phoebe Putney Health System's Convenient Care locations and local emergency rooms.

The reason city officials seem partial to using the Flint Avenue building as the site of the new clinic is because they wouldn't have to pay money for a lease or a mortgage, which would translate into savings in the long run, Newton said.

"We looked at a few locations, one of which was a perfect location downtown, and the property owner wanted to lease it to use for $3,000 to $4,000 per month," Newton said. "If we took this building, there would be no money fee, just the maintenance cost and I think we'd come out ahead in the long run on those."