Companies promote benefits of preferred clinic

Published 9:00 pm Tuesday, February 14, 2023

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The preferred clinic at MercyOne has heard nothing but good news from the four businesses, their employees and their families utilizing the service: Innovance, Select Foods, Mrs. Gerry’s and Albert Lea Seed.

“The only people that can go are employees of the companies that are part of that,” said Steve Tufte, CFO of Innovance.

According to Tufte, there are two reasons for having a preferred clinic: cost-savings and availability from an employee’s standpoint.

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“I know when we’ve compared in the past we were probably saving 30 to 50% … per visit,” Tufte said, adding that a health visit could take as long as two or three days. But with the preferred clinic, people could see a professional the same day and added that a two- day wait would be an extreme wait.

Each company had their own reason for joining.

“Driving down health care costs is a big one, but it’s also a great benefit for our employees,” said Erin Sauer, who works in human resources at Mrs. Gerry’s. “It’s a great recruitment, but it’s a great way for our employees to be able to meet their health care needs so they don’t have to second-guess, ‘Oh, should I take my child into the doctors and can we afford it?’

“Now that takes that off the table and they can go there without having to worry and say, ‘Hey, I can be seen for this child who has an ear infection.’”

The company, which has 250 staff, had previously worked with HealthPartners, and liked the idea of having Mercy as a backup in case something happened that was outside of the scope of what the preferred clinic had available and joined in January 2015.

“I think it’s done great,” she said, referring to the partnership and smooth transition. “I’ve got a lot of people that are saying, ‘Oh, I got referred into the Mercy network.’”

She also noted Mercy had more services, including imaging.

Nicole Hansen, human resources manager at Albert Lea Seed, said while only 10 to 15 of the roughly 40 employees enrolled utilized the business clinic, she was trying to get more people signed up.

By contrast, Albert Lea Seed has 57 employees.

“They’re scared cause they don’t believe that it’s going to be free,” she said. “They’re like, ‘No, wait, you’re going to let me go to the doctor, take my whole family and my kids there and it’s not going to cost me anything? That’s not real, that doesn’t happen.’”

Albert Lea Seed joined the business clinic in early 2021.

“We actually were never part of a clinic before,” she said.

But after hearing Tufte speak at a human resources group meeting and listening to him out at Wedgewood Cove, she brought the idea back to her leadership team.

“Healthy employees are happy employees, right?” she said, adding that they didn’t have to worry about what doctors were in-network and how much services would cost.

“I think for the match it boiled down to simply we’re saving money on health care costs, and it’s a huge employee benefit once they realize that it’s there and they start taking advantage of it,” said Mac Ehrhardt, owner and manager of Albert Lea Seed.

According to Hansen, the employees she has spoken with who have utilized the clinic loved it.

“Their biggest thing is the cost savings,” she said. “They can’t believe that they’re getting real health care visits for free. They can’t believe that their prescriptions are free, so they love it. I haven’t had anybody say anything negative.”

Ehrhardt particularly liked the timing, noting his employees could call the clinic and oftentimes come in the same day or the next.

He also wanted to see more employees utilize the clinic, as that meant health care costs would go down.

Jim Kinkade, who works in human resources at Innovance, said 300 people were eligible to use the business clinic at the clinic, and said the partnership has been “fantastic.”

“Our employees, they’re quick to provide feedback on things, and as an employee-owned company they’re quick to provide us with input,” he said. “And the feedback has been very, very favorable.”

He noted employees liked the convenience of having a clinic close by, as well as the costs.

“In quality of care, people don’t always attribute free with quality,” Kinkade said. “This is a very high-quality level of care that our employees are receiving.”

Sandy Clover, a registered nurse and occupational health and safety manager at Albert Lea Select Foods, said 300 employees utilized the clinic through her company.

“It’s worked out well,” Clover said, referring to the company’s partnership. “I can think of a handful of employees that went there for health maintenance that have actually — they found out other underlying conditions that were pretty important.”

And like Erhardt, employees were excited about free health care. The difference is that at Select Foods any employee is eligible to use the clinic, while at Innovance employees had to be on a medical plan, people had to sign up at Albert Lea Seed and at Mrs. Gerry’s anybody could go as long as they were employed full time following their first 60 days of employment.

Previously, her company used HealthPartners. But unless someone from HealthPartners came down, people had to take time off to visit providers.

“When MercyOne came to Albert Lea, our health insurance actually made … MercyOne their own specific network for coverage,” she said. “So if they do want to use MercyOne or go to their Mason City clinic, it would be covered in-network, which prior to them moving here we didn’t have that available.”

“[There’s] a misconception people sometimes have is … if I go to the business clinic here, the preferred clinic, then I can only go to Mercy, and that’s not true,” Tufte said. “The business clinic is just available for anybody that wants to go. And then if they go to Mayo or they go to Mercy or they go to someone else, that’s up to them depending on what their insurance plan is on there. They are not restricted that way. It’s open as far as where they can go for other services beyond the preferred clinic.”

Tufte said at the end of each month MercyOne sends out an email with how many visits each of the four companies accumulated.

“Based on that they send us an invoice,” he said. “There’s kind of three costs related to it.”

Those costs include a fixed cost, a cost for the pharmacy and another cost depending on the procedure performed.

The preferred clinic has been around since January 2015, and is available to any business that wants to join. The clinic currently sees around 1500 people, including dependents and spouses, between the companies

“It was actually at a separate location just a few blocks from here actually, and then in 2021 we closed that down and then went to the MercyOne Clinic,” he said.

Tufte said the preferred clinic was currently looking for more businesses to partner with, and said he was currently talking with a handful, though he estimated if the companies joined “easily” another 300 to 1,000 additional employees would be added.

“We’re not limited in space out there, it’s a matter of if we grow enough that they will add additional personnel to meet our needs,” he said.

He would like to see imaging expand their services, as well as having access to more specialists. And he wasn’t worried about outgrowing the space the business clinic has.