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Gainesville clinic gives city employees free medical care
A sign hangs on a wall Thursday inside the new Wellness Clinic. The clinic will provide heath care for Gainesville employees. - photo by SARA GUEVARA

The city of Gainesville opened the doors of its on-site medical clinic Thursday with appointments to see 11 patients between noon and the end of the day.

The operation by the Tennessee-based management company CareHere will give people in the city’s group health insurance plan the chance to see a doctor and get some prescriptions without a co-payment, said Joan Sheffield, director of human resources for the city.

The City Wellness Clinic opened just months after Gainesville switched to a health insurance plan that made employees pay about $40 a month for their premiums, a historic change for city employees, who received free health benefits until this year. The clinic is meant to mitigate the growing costs of providing health care for city employees.

"We believe we can save money on employee health care expenses," Sheffield said. "We also believe we can reduce the amount of health claim costs ... and we’re hopeful that we’ll provide a very healthy... work force in the process."

The clinic is open to any employee, dependent and retiree who participates in the city’s group health insurance plan, but it is not required that employees use the clinic, Sheffield said.

With four exam rooms, two of them for primary care purposes, patients can expect little wait time and 20-minute appointments, Sheffield said.

"We pride ourselves in CareHere’s philosophy that no employee waits," Sheffield said. "They come in and out and are typically back at work within 28 minutes of being seen, so there’s no more hours on end of waiting."

Employees can visit the clinic for basically anything, Sheffield said, whether they are sick or simply need an annual physical. Physicians at the clinic can perform pulmonary function tests, Pap exams and will be able to give preliminary diagnoses for certain problems.

Employees who need certain prescription drugs — antibiotics, antihistamines, antidepressants and medicines to treat high blood pressure, cholesterol, acid reflux and diabetes — can get them for free at the City Wellness Center.

Soon, the clinic will offer wellness classes for employees who are at risk for diabetes or need new parenting classes. The clinic might even set up Weight Watchers meetings.

"Whatever our employees ask for, we’ll try to get the staffing to do that," Sheffield said.

The city budgeted about $87,000 for the renovations of the building on West Ridge Drive in front of the Georgia Mountains Regional Development Center, but the total construction cost was less than $85,000, Sheffield said.

The clinic, housed in the city’s A-1 building, is expected to save the city $181,300 in health care costs in its first year. It is the third clinic in Georgia managed by CareHere. The company manages two others in Monroe and Lawrenceville.