SSM Health clinic is partnership with Wisconsin city, school district

August 15, 2022

Employer-funded clinic's easy access, low cost and on-point services include 'proactive wellness' programs

By LISA EISENHAUER

Michele Vollmer is a regular at the wellness clinic she has access to as an employee of the Sun Prairie Area School District in Wisconsin.


Michele Vollmer with her sons Bryce and Braeden outside the SSM Health Dean Medical Group building in Sun Prairie, Wisconsin, that houses an employer-funded clinic available to city and school district workers and their families.

Vollmer, administrative assistant to the director of student policy and school operations, went to the clinic last fall for her annual wellness checkup. It included the hormone testing she needs to monitor her thyroid condition without the $100 lab fee her primary care physician's office charges. She went to the clinic this spring for a sprained ankle. She has gotten a mammogram and seen a dermatology specialist for a skin cancer screening. She took her two sons to the clinic for flu shots.

"Whenever something comes up health related, I think, 'OK, can I do that through the wellness clinic?' and if so, that's where I'm going to go," she says.

The Sun Prairie Area School District and City Employee Wellness Clinic opened in the summer of 2020. A partnership between the school district, the city of Sun Prairie and SSM Health, it offers no- and low-out-of-pocket-cost services to the district's almost 1,250 employees, to the city's about 250 employees and to family members of those employees.


Meacham

Jim Meacham, administrator for direct-to-employer services for SSM Health, says that while the Sun Prairie employee clinic is not unique, it is distinct in his experience because of the collaboration involved. The clinic adds services and programs based on the needs of the population under its care.

"We've found that this really penetrates the return on investment for our clients because it's not just an extra layer of health care," Meacham says.

Special services
The special offerings have included curbside COVID-19 and flu testing, vaccination events at school district buildings, a daylong clinic for skin cancer checks, an outdoor walking club to encourage exercise and weight loss, and weekly Zoom sessions on health and wellness topics.


Hahn

This summer, the clinic is hosting a women's health day with screenings and information focused on women's wellness. That event was planned at the suggestion of Deanna Hahn, SSM Health's clinic manager for direct-to-employer services in the Madison, Wisconsin, area that includes Sun Prairie. She works closely with the school district and the city to keep the clinic's services in line with their needs.

"We are pretty diverse in what we can do and it's really exciting work to see the impact of managing that population health," Hahn says. "We are getting people who don't normally go to the doctor coming to the clinic to access that care and finding things early."

Among the clinic's basic services are acute care for minor afflictions such as earaches and sprains, wellness exams, employment and sports physicals, workplace injury treatment, occupational health services, and management care for heart disease, diabetes, allergies and other conditions.


Bryce, left, and Braeden Vollmer, sons of a school district worker in Sun Prairie, Wisconsin, get flu shots from Jen Banuelos, a registered nurse at the employee wellness clinic for city workers and school district workers and their families. The clinic is a partnership between the city, the school district and SSM Health.

Patients can schedule appointments by phone or via an online portal. They can usually see a provider in the office or virtually on the same day. While the clinic encourages patients to make appointments, its providers see walk-ins, too.

The clinic is open 7:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday-Thursday and 7:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Friday. The clinic is staffed by a physician's assistant one day a week and a nurse practitioner the other four. A registered nurse and a medical assistant work at the facility full time.

New location, new options
Since its opening, the clinic has been housed at an SSM Health Dean Medical Group site. This fall the district is opening a new high school, which is freeing up space in a district building for the clinic and a professional development center.


Richmond

Karyn Richmond, wellness coordinator for the Sun Prairie Area School District, says bringing the clinic on site will centralize the location for both school district and city employees. In addition, its location adjacent to the staff professional development center will provide a higher profile among its largest patient group.

Richmond sees the clinic as a big component of the district's wellness strategy. "The clinic is one piece, but it's a really strong and integral piece," she adds.

Part of the wellness strategy is to increase access to health care for employees and their families and decrease barriers, including financial ones, Richmond says. Another piece is "proactive wellness," or getting employees to embrace practices and lifestyles that can reduce their risk for diabetes, obesity and other preventable conditions. "We want to engage our employee group in proactive wellness activities as much as possible and provide them with the tools and resources to take care of themselves," Richmond adds.

She points to the walking club that was active last year as an example of how the clinic has helped the district with both parts of the strategy. Jenny Gruber, the clinic's nurse practitioner, led the club and developed relationships with many participants. By developing a rapport with participants, Gruber was able to make them feel comfortable scheduling appointments with her at the clinic. Some of the clinic visits resulted in identifying prediabetes, high cholesterol and other underlying health issues and led to treatments and interventions.

Gruber, who has specialized training in healthy weight-loss management, also helped facilitate a weight-loss challenge for district employees in which the participants shed an estimated 350 pounds.

'Professional marriage'
Richmond says a goal of the district once the clinic opens in its building is to have a mental and behavioral health coach added to its staff to counsel workers on how to cope with stress, including that brought on by the pandemic. The coach would be a bridge between the services offered by the acute care model of the district's employee assistance program and the longer-term treatment covered by insurers, she explains.

Richmond calls the partnership between the district and the clinic "a beautiful professional marriage." She communicates with the clinic's staff almost daily via phone or email to discuss how to augment services, coordinate special events and increase utilization. She promotes the clinic through the district website, newsletters, emails and in-person events and by having wellness representatives in school district buildings who share information with staff.

When the clinic opens at its new site this fall, its staff and supporters plan to invite the whole patient population to a celebration to familiarize more workers with the clinic's convenience and services.

Since its opening, Meacham says the clinic's uptake has followed the hoped-for trajectory of its planners. Through mid-May, 37% of the employees who had access to the clinic had used its in-person or virtual services. That puts the clinic on track by its third anniversary to reach the 60% utilization milestone that Meacham calls the national standard for successful employer-funded clinics.

"We're engaging the unengaged and you can see it in the data," he says. "That's the model that we're trying to scale and bring to a lot of other businesses."

 

Copyright © 2022 by the Catholic Health Association of the United States
For reprint permission, contact Betty Crosby or call (314) 253-3490.