Focus, Health Care, and Human Resources

The doctor will see you now

Lacks Primary Care Clinics deliver innovative solution to rising health care costs.

May 8, 2015
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Dr. D’Andrea Heeres surveys the pharmacy at the Lacks Primary Care Clinic in Caledonia. Photo by Rachel Weick

A Grand Rapids-based company has successfully pioneered a new method of delivering health care to employees through an employer-sponsored clinic in partnership with CareATC.

Lacks Enterprises, an automotive parts manufacturer headquartered at 5460 Cascade Road SE, said through the operation of its innovative near-site primary health care clinics for employees, the company was not only able to fund its Employee Health Savings Accounts and reduce barriers to health care access, but also cover the cost of running the clinics.

Jim Green, executive director of human resources at Lacks Enterprises, said there was no guarantee the model would be successful in its first year, but the feedback has been excellent so far and, based on the performance of the operation, was a positive business venture.

“I think like with anything new, there was a little skepticism. I was very happy with the adoption rate of employees using the clinics on a regular basis by the end of the year,” said Green.

“You would expect some hiccups in the first year, but with the performance of the clinics we were able to cover all the cost of setting up and running the clinics, funding our health savings accounts, and we were able to hold employees’ costs flat after we had reduced it by 35 percent.”

During the first year of operation, the two Lacks Primary Care Clinics provided care from board-licensed physicians, as well as laboratory and pharmaceutical services, to employees and their dependents.

First-year results included: more than 7,700 appointments were scheduled; roughly 52 percent of insured employees used the facility at least once; more than 1,500 patients were engaged in preventive personal health assessments; and approximately 41 percent of those individuals returned to discuss results with a physician. Among 680 patients, more than 2,600 chronic conditions were diagnosed, and 83 percent of patients experienced a wait time of less than 10 minutes.

Although the two clinics launched in January 2014 at 7105 Broadmoor Ave. SE, Caledonia, and 826 Parchment Drive SE, Grand Rapids, the due diligence and planning for the innovative care model began in 2008, as Green sought to address the company’s rising burden of  health care costs.

“If you look at the spending we had for health care, it was our fourth-largest expense as a company. We had our payroll, we had our chemical cost, material cost, and then it was health care,” said Green.

“Obviously, from a business perspective, it was a major expense — and it was growing at 6 to 8 percent a year. At some point it was going to become unaffordable or take away the benefit dollars we had and erode the ability to give raises, bonuses, profit sharing and 401(k) matching. We knew we needed to come up with a solution.”

After researching other health initiatives and onsite clinic programs run by large corporations, Green said he identified shortcomings and aspects that made sense and found there were certain building blocks needed to implement a successful program.

Lacks launched a wellness program in 2009, spent time communicating and educating employees about the importance of the health initiative, and then began looking for a strategic partner to handle the management and operation of the clinics, according to Green.

“We are in the automotive industry. We make car parts. I felt it would be easier if we had an organization run the clinics separately,” he said. “I discovered CareATC. I liked their culture, I liked their management style, and they had been successful primarily in government, school and municipality environments, but their model looked like it would work.”

Lacks and CareATC began initial discussions in 2011 and, during the three-year window, Green said he evaluated CareATC’s performance with other clients and continued to build the foundation with the wellness program and moving employees toward becoming true consumers of health care through using health savings accounts with high-deductible plans.

“They would have to be a consumer in the health care industry,” said Green. “At the end of the day, if you are not healthy and you are not doing things to keep yourself healthy, it is going to cost you more money.”

Simon Abbott, vice president of business development for CareATC, said the organization was aware Lacks was a leading company in West Michigan and had watched a number of companies struggle with escalating health care costs.

“For probably 15 years, CareATC had been working with companies across the U.S. to control their health care costs, and so we approached Lacks Enterprises and Jim Green to talk about if they were interested in hiring our services to help them control their health care problem,” said Abbott.

“You have to really understand what the root cause is, so we spend a lot of time with the client really understanding what drives the increasing costs in health care. Once they understand that, we talk about what our model — our business solution — really focuses in on.”

CareATC provides customizable health care solutions for employers through services such as onsite and shared-site medical clinics, biometric personal health assessments, chronic disease management and population risk analysis. The Oklahoma-based provider focuses on managing population health down to the individual and their dependents, while working collectively to be proactive with chronic diagnoses and health risks, according to Abbott.

“The health network traditionally is looking at individual health. They manage individual health, and what we do is completely different,” said Abbott. “That is why we can be partners with a health network because we are not providing the same service. We are looking at Lacks Enterprises’ complete population, what their health management is like, what are the specifics that need to be done to improve the population all the way down to the individual.”

The two Lacks Primary Care Clinics’ locations were chosen based on proximity to the majority of employees’ homes and Lacks Enterprises operations and accessibility from the highway. The clinics provide primary care medical services by appointment from 8 a.m.-5 p.m., Monday through Friday, with extended hours on Wednesdays, and availability on Saturday. An onsite laboratory and pharmacy are located at the clinics to reduce traditional costs and compliance issues, according to Abbott.

CareATC also works with Priority Health when an employee or dependent needs to be referred to a specialist.

Dr. D’Andrea Heeres, primary care physician at Lacks Primary Care Clinic in Caledonia, said she is able to provide routine primary care needs, physicals, personal health assessment reviews, and see patients for both chronic issues and acute care.

“I am a full-range family practice doctor here. I see people for chronic visits, like diabetes follow-ups, high blood pressure follow-ups, and we also see them for acute visits, such as cough, colds and urinary tract infections,” said Heeres. “We carry medication formulary onsite, which was really helpful for patients because there is no cost for the medications to them, and it helps to increase their compliance. They are taking their meds like they are supposed to, which improves health outcomes.”

Heeres worked in a traditional family practice setting in Muskegon for more than five years and was interested in the CareATC model for a number of reasons.

“It was really more about looking for chronic disease, diagnosing it before it is an urgent problem, preventing illness when possible, and being able to take the time to coach a patient through some of it,” said Heeres. “I am able to have longer patient appointments instead of feeling rushed to increase productivity to make more money for a hospital system. It is really involving the patients in their care.”

The south clinic has a staff of three medical assistants, an office manager and one family practice physician, while the north clinic has two medical assistants and one physician. A third physician is anticipated to be hired this summer and will split time between the two clinics.

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