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Hall County moving forward on health clinic for workers

Proposal would open pharmacy at old East Hall library branch

POSTED: August 11, 2014 5:55 p.m.

Hall County officials are finally moving forward on plans to turn the old East Hall library branch, shuttered as a result of budget cuts in July 2011, into a health clinic for employees.

But it remains unknown whether the city of Gainesville will partner in the endeavor.

County officials have been considering the idea for about a year, and hope to have the clinic operating come Jan. 1.

“There’s a number of advantages to all this,” Human Resources Director Bill Moats told the Board of Commissioners on Monday during a work session. “We can lower our health care costs. We can lower costs to the employees that are covered by our medical plan.”

However, purported savings depend largely on the participation rate of employees, who will not be prohibited from getting their prescriptions, for example, from
private businesses such as Walgreens or Rite Aid.

Moats said the cost of renovating the library to include a pharmacy and clinic, including exam and waiting rooms, is about $55,000.

“That building is basically ready to go,” Moats said, adding it needs a paint job and some new carpeting, among a few other things.

The operational cost of the pharmacy is estimated at about $446,000 per year. With an employee participation rate of 55 percent or higher, health care savings could total about $268,000 annually.

Meanwhile, the clinic’s operating cost is estimated at more than $700,000 per year, while health care savings could total about $400,000 annually.

Much of the potential savings would stem from reducing the number of urgent and emergency care visits to the hospital by county workers.

Moreover, Moats said the clinic would offer health coaching and wellness programs, as well as conduct new-hire physicals and fit-for-duty exams, all of which can help lower overall health care costs.

Finally, Moats said the clinic helps reduce costs by cutting out the middleman. For example, he added, prescription medication is essentially bought and sold at wholesale prices.

Officials said the clinic could also service prison inmates, retirees, workers’ dependents and potentially local school personnel.

The city of Gainesville currently operates its own clinic near Lee Gilmer Memorial Airport.

But county officials said that facility would need a major overhaul and expansion to accommodate an influx of workers.

Instead, officials hope the city will partner on the new pharmacy and clinic.

County officials said the East Hall library branch makes for a better and more adaptable facility.

A partnership would likely bring additional savings to the county, though Moats said most of the cost-cutting would benefit Gainesville.

“It helps even justify it more,” said Commissioner Scott Gibbs. “It’s not feasible for (Gainesville) to do this on their own.”

But any partnership will hinge on the split of costs and services to city and county workers, a fact that could be problematic in negotiations.

“If they want to join us, I think there’s still the opportunity for them to do it ...,” said Commissioner Craig Lutz. “But as we all know, working with the city has not been particularly easy.”

Commissioner Jeff Stowe said he wanted the county and city to negotiate first.

“At some point, we’ve got to move forward,” he added.

Commissioner Billy Powell said he was leery that an agreement could mean the county would be investing resources into a project it doesn’t wholly own.

“That’s a concern I have that I’d like to mitigate as much as possible,” he added.

Gainesville officials could not be reached for comment prior to press time.

Meanwhile, Hall County Library System Director Adrian Mixson has been pushing county officials to reopen the East Hall branch. The site also serves as a polling precinct.

But Mixson, who could not be reached for comment Monday, appears to have had his hopes dashed.

“I can at least open it back up and offer computer services, which was always the most popular thing over there,” he told The Times earlier this year.


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