The Hall County Board of Commissioners voted 4-1 Thursday to proceed with opening a pharmacy and health clinic to serve county employees.
It will be located at the old East Hall library branch in the Rabbittown neighborhood off Old Cornelia Highway.
Officials said the move will generate significant annual savings in the county’s health care costs.
But an effort to get Gainesville to partner in the endeavor has been unpersuasive, with city officials saying they intend to keep operating their own clinic off West Ridge Road.
“In the end, it was our hope that (the county) would join us at our current location for a jointly operated ... clinic,” said Gainesville Human Resources Director Janeann Allison. “No matter what happens with the county, the city will continue operating our clinic at its current location for the city employees.”
That sticking point appears to have opened some old wounds, with city and county officials agreeing that a joint operation is best while refusing to budge on the preferred location.
Commissioner Jeff Stowe cast the lone dissent.
“I’m not the biggest fan of the location we’ve chosen,” he said, adding that he desires to partner with Gainesville at its location. “At some point, we can’t keep finger-pointing.”
But other commissioners, as well as Human Resources Director Bill Moats, said the city’s clinic would need a significant expansion and renovation to service city and county workers.
But Gainesville officials dispute this.
“The city already has a functioning clinic that has vacant space,” Mayor Danny Dunagan said in a statement. “The creation of a joint clinic would not require a major overhaul but rather a renovation of a few rooms to suit the expanded clinic’s needs.”
Operating the pharmacy would produce about $268,000 in annual net savings for the county, according to estimates.
The county will save money by purchasing and distributing prescription drugs at a lower cost, though employees will not be prohibited from getting their medication from a retailer or seeing their own personal care physicians.
Savings related to the clinic could stem from a reduction in the number of urgent and emergency care visits to the hospital by county workers.
A city-county partnership would generate additional savings on the pharmacy side, with estimates varying based on the split cost of operations and dependent upon a certain level of employee participation.
However, savings from the clinic are less significant and less favorable to the county if the city joins in.
Commissioner Craig Lutz said employees would save on out-of-pocket expenses, benefiting from the fact that the county is self-insured.
The pharmacy could also provide prescription drugs for county prison inmates, perhaps reducing costs in this area. The county contracts for these services annually.
Retirees, workers’ dependents and potentially local school personnel could also access the pharmacy and clinic.
The board approved $60,000 in funding needed for renovations at the former library branch, including the building of a pharmacy and waiting/exam rooms.
But the board’s decision to press forward, with or without the city, has finally crushed any chance that the library will reopen after being shuttered due to budget cuts in 2011.
“The land was given to the county for use as a library,” said Hall County Library System Director Adrian Mixson. “It is hard to ask any citizens for support when you later decide to repurpose the intention of their gift.”
It is possible that the county and city could negotiate a partnership in the coming weeks or months. Both sides have said they want to work together, after all.
“I believe we owe it to our employees and the taxpayers of Hall County to continue these discussions and hopefully reach an agreement,” Dunagan said.
Commissioner Billy Powell echoed this sentiment.
“We have all agreed that partnering with the city would be wonderful,” he said.