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GREER, S.C.—People’s reactions when entering BMW’s brand-new 25,000-square-foot health care center are typically the same. After walking through the automatic glass doors, most pause to gaze about and take in the large atrium lobby, where sunlight pours in through a glass ceiling.
“When people first walk in the door they usually just stop and look all around and then tell us that it is the nicest doctor’s office they have ever seen,” said Bill Raulerson, director of site operations for the BMW health care center.
Raulerson works for Take Care Health Systems, a division of Walgreens. Take Care Health has contracted with BMW to operate the onsite health care center for the automaker’s 4-million-square-foot manufacturing plant located in upstate South Carolina and nestled between the larger cities of Spartanburg and Greenville. BMW invested $5 million to build the new facility, which looks more like a small hospital than an employer’s onsite health clinic.
Take Care Health began operating a pharmacy at the plant in 2005, and the onsite health services eventually expanded into a full-service clinic. The clinic, though, outgrew its space as more BMW employees and their dependent family members opted to use the onsite health care.
Quality and Convenience
The more than 13,000 participants in BMW’s health care plan can use the clinic (the plant employs approximately 7,000 people). Plan participants include employees, their immediate family members and qualified retirees.
Not all plan participants use the onsite health services, but awareness of the high quality of service and convenience is growing, and Raulerson expects that the number of patients at the clinic will only increase.
Onsite services have been well-received by BMW employees, who rank the health care offerings among the best and most appreciated benefits. The consistent high ranking by employees and the rising number of plan participants using the services led the carmaker to commit to constructing the much larger, state-of-the-art facility. The new employee health care center opened in early January 2013 and is now one of the largest—if not the largest—onsite health clinics in the U.S.
“Onsite health care services can differ widely depending on an employer’s needs and employee demand. So it’s really hard to say where this center actually stands when compared to other onsite facilities,” Raulerson said. “But I think it’s safe to say that this is one of the newest and most technologically advanced onsite health care centers in the United States.”
Integrated Path to Healing
The new center provides a holistic approach to health care by offering not only primary care but also full-service vision and dental care. In addition, the center has a laboratory for medical testing and digital X-ray capabilities. The center’s full-service pharmacy is more than double the size of conventional drugstore sites and features private consultation rooms.
“The complete health care service that we offer patients is really unparalleled anywhere else in the United States, I believe,” Raulerson said.
The onsite services are cost-effective and offer a much higher quality of care, he added. “The health care providers are able to spend more time with patients. It’s very much a win-win situation because patients not only get a higher quality of care; they also become better health care consumers, which can help lower health care costs for both the company and employees.”
Patients for the center’s primary-, occupational-, dental- and vision-care services are in the same database, so prescriptions and treatments can be cross-referenced easily. So if a patient receives certain treatments or prescriptions for dental work, then those prescriptions can be compared with other drugs the primary care physician prescribed.
“Drug interaction from different prescriptions can be a huge problem,” Raulerson said. “We can prevent that from happening, so we definitely provide a much more holistic approach to health care.”
BMW management clearly thinks the cost of building the center and employing a staff of approximately 45 to provide the full array of onsite services is an excellent investment.
“We want to bring quality health care to associates and their families in a cost-effective and efficient manner,” said Annmarie Higgins, vice president of human resources at BMW Manufacturing. “We want to provide individuals greater opportunity to reach and maintain optimal health through education, prevention, early detection and management of existing health conditions.”
According to Raulerson, BMW’s HR department keeps close tabs on the health care center’s effectiveness. The returns on investment so far have been very favorable. The data and experience of BMW don’t surprise executives at Walgreens, who are witnessing positive results around the nation from the more than 370 employers the company contracts with to provide onsite health care services
“Walgreens has increasingly shown how investing in worksite health programs can be instrumental in helping to reduce costs for employers while improving the overall health and productivity of their workforce,” said Peter Hotz, Walgreens’ group vice president.
Several sources familiar with employer-provided health services believe that BMW's center could serve as a model for providing health care to an aging workforce while ensuring that the costs remain reasonable.
“Having dental, vision, primary care and a pharmacy under one roof is extremely convenient,” Raulerson said. “I believe employees and their family members will be using these services more and more, and, in turn, their health will benefit greatly.”
Bill Leonard is a senior writer for SHRM.
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