Workplace Clinics Step Up to COVID-19 Challenges

Onsite facilities can reduce health care costs and absenteeism

By Susan Ladika February 10, 2021
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Workplace Clinics Step Up to COVID-19 Challenges

Worksite health clinics are offering services such as coronavirus testing, help managing chronic conditions and additional telehealth options as the COVID-19 pandemic drags on.

Kenneth Aldridge, director of Rosen Medical Center, operated by Rosen Hotels & Resorts in Orlando, Fla., describes the medical center as a "quarterback for health care."

When the pandemic hit, Rosen, which operates eight hotels in the area, teamed up with a local laboratory to provide COVID-19 testing for employees. Results were available within 24 hours, compared to the seven to 10 days it was taking the state to provide results, Aldridge said. Rosen also implemented contact tracing when someone tested positive.

The medical center serves about 6,500 employees and their dependents, said Ashley Bacot, risk manager at Rosen Hotels & Resorts.

Rosen Medical Center, founded in 1991 by the hotel group, now covers 12,000 square feet (up from its initial 3,500 square feet) and is staffed by physicians and an administrator. It also provides onsite access to a dietitian, podiatrist and chiropractor.

The hotel chain requires employees to use its medical center for primary care services. It's a way to "be sure of continuity of care and follow-up," Aldridge said.

Employees pay no deductibles and no co-insurance, and 90 percent of medications are free, Bacot pointed out. Hourly employees who go to the clinic for care during their regular working hours are paid as if they were on the clock.

The clinic aims to "reduce barriers to care," said Bacot, who added that there is a "laserlike focus on prevention," as medical staff address conditions such as hypertension, diabetes and high cholesterol.

Many Rosen employees come from developing countries and have had limited health care in their lifetimes. Many also must contend with language barriers, lower levels of education, food and housing insecurity, and lack of transportation, Aldridge noted.

Because the health care providers are salaried employees at Rosen, the medical staff can focus on getting employees healthy, rather than worrying about insurance reimbursement, he said.

Responding to the Pandemic

Unlike Rosen, which has decades of experience operating a clinic, Hormel Foods in Austin, Minn., opened its workplace clinic in June 2020 in the midst of the pandemic, said Mike Kadrie, director of employee benefits.

Hormel began a feasibility study for the clinic in 2015, and eventually partnered with Premise Health to launch the 4,500-square-foot clinic, which offers such services as primary care, physical therapy and laboratory testing.

Because of the pandemic, the company purchased lab equipment that provides rapid testing for COVID-19 and tests for influenza and strep throat, Kadrie said.

Usage Is Up

A November survey by the National Association of Worksite Health Centers (NAWHC) found that from March to November 2020, 30 percent of the centers reported higher usage by employees and dependents.

During a January webinar, NAWHC researchers reported that 53 percent of the 41 responding centers were performing COVID-19 nasal-swab testing onsite, with the test results analyzed at outside labs in about a day. However, about half the clinics had rapid onsite testing, with results in as little as 15 minutes.

The onsite clinics survey sampled employers of all sizes—19 percent with fewer than 300 employees, and 13 percent with more than 10,000. Researchers also found that:

  • More than 80 percent of clinics conducted an initial screening for COVID-19 symptoms by telephone.
  • 65 percent offered virus management via telephone.
  • 45 percent of the clinics said they were willing to vaccinate employees for COVID-19.

"Worksite centers can be a major source for vaccinations" if they are allowed to become so by state public health authorities, which are overseeing vaccine distribution, said Larry Boress, executive director of the NAWHC. Both Rosen Hotels and Hormel say they are hoping to win government approval to vaccinate their employees when the COVID-19 vaccines become more widely available.

Virtual Care Services

Even for companies where most employees have been working remotely since the pandemic began, workplace clinics have an important role to play.

A fall 2020 survey by consultancy Willis Towers Watson of 107 companies with workplace clinics found almost half had increased the use of telehealth services because of the pandemic. Virtual care visits provide chronic condition management, behavioral health care, health care navigation and physical therapy.

"Some of this was already starting to happen, but the pandemic certainly sped this up," said Kara Speer, national practice leader for employer-sponsored health centers for Willis Towers Watson.

The availability of telehealth allowed employees to consult with "a known, trusted provider if a [health] center wasn't open or they weren't comfortable going to it," Speer said.

Another option on the rise, she said, is that more worksite clinics are signing agreements so their providers can consult with specialists for cases requiring specialized care.

Bringing Care to the Workers

Having an onsite clinic has helped Rosen decrease health care costs and absenteeism, while increasing productivity, Aldridge said. Employees spend 15 or 20 minutes going to a medical appointment, rather than taking three or four hours to visit a location offsite.

And it has helped the hotelier retain talent, Bacot noted. "Turnover is lower than our peers' in the hospitality industry."

For employers that offer workplace clinics, "this has become a most treasured benefit," Boress said.

Susan Ladika is a freelance writer based in Tampa, Fla.

Related SHRM Online Articles:

The Pros, Cons and Possibilities of Onsite Health Care, SHRM Online, July 2019

Related SHRM Resource

Onsite and Near-Site Clinic Companies, SHRM Human Resource Vendor Directory


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