Utz Quality Foods treats employees to onsite clinic

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When Dylan Lissette, the son-in-law of Utz Quality Foods owners Michael and Jane Rice, took over as CEO, he decided to battle rising healthcare costs for both the company and its employees. Utz started with typical healthy-living initiatives, including nutrition and exercise programs — they even built a gym.

According to Ginger Miller, the health and wellness coordinator for Utz, the healthy living initiatives only went so far. “Our population was growing, our healthcare needs were growing, and our costs continued to grow. We asked ourselves, what is the basis of healthcare? The answer we found was primary care,” says Miller. The national snack foods company employs 3,000 nationally, with 1,400 in its Hanover, PA plant.

Utz looked to improve primary care for employees by researching a variety of healthcare providers. Rather than be limited by the services of a local hospital, Utz decided on a national provider that had relationships with many pharmaceutical, vaccination, and lab companies. It finally chose Activate Healthcare to set up an onsite primary care clinic for employees, including acute care, physicals, lab work, and long-term health management.

The Utz Health and Wellness Center operates as a primary care facility, so it’s not intended for walk-in urgent care. Each day the clinic schedules time for acute care, physicals and follow-up visits. Patients make appointments and acute cases are seen within 24 hours. The clinic operates 40 hours per week, and since Utz is a 24-hour operation, the hours fluctuate, some days it opens as early as 6:00 AM, and other days stays open late.

Benefits of the clinic include reduced healthcare costs for Utz and for its employees, improved employee health, and increased employee engagement, retention and satisfaction. At Utz in Hanover, 87% of employees are utilizing the clinic, along with 67% of their family members.

The clinic strives for total engagement with its patients. This helps Utz save money over time.

“Our provider teams can see predominant issues within individuals and the greater population. If you spend more time with patients, providers can see the bigger picture and prevent future illnesses, reducing long-term costs. Issues in the greater population can be spotted and focused on, be it smoking, weight loss, or nutrition,” says Debra Geihsler, principle at Activate Healthcare, which is headquartered in Indianapolis.

Fatigue and severe dry mouth brought Chet Ripple, an Utz night shift leader, to the clinic last August for a routine appointment. After discussing his family history and a medication he was taking for leg twitches, the clinic’s Dr. Pyram asked Ripple to take a blood test. Although not keen about it, Ripple agreed and then went to an eye appointment.

After his eye appointment, Ripple saw a message from Dr. Pyram, asking him to call him right back. Dr. Pyram told him he needed an insulin shot right away. His blood sugar numbers were very high and he was diabetic.

Ripple says that he probably wouldn’t have gone to the clinic except that it was no-cost and onsite, but he’s glad he went. “Dr. Pyram saved my life,” he says. “If he hadn’t called me and insisted that I return to the clinic — first of all, what doctor does that? — who knows what I would have eaten after my appointments?”

Ripple, adds, “Dr. Pyram has given me back my life. He’s one of my biggest supporters.”

Bringing onsite clinics to smaller employers

Activate Healthcare was started in 2009 by Debra Geihsler and Peter Dunn. Geihsler is a seasoned healthcare CEO who managed thousands of physicians; Dunn a veteran CEO who managed tens of thousands of workers. They combined their unique perspectives to create an integrated approach to healthcare.

Activate Healthcare partners with employers to provide onsite and near-site clinics for businesses with 100 to 1,500 employees. Historically, only large organizations could afford onsite clinics, but now many small and midsized businesses are joining together to provide on- and near-site clinics for their employees.

The Utz employee base is large enough to support a clinic, but for smaller companies, sharing a clinic may be a good option, according to Greg Banaszynski, Activate Healthcare’s president for the Eastern Region. Activate operates near-site clinics where a number of employers, anywhere from five to 15, aggregate to one location. “The model for an onsite or near-site clinic fits most organizations, but many can’t afford a clinic alone and have found sharing allows them to get the benefits,” says Banaszynski.

Nicole Fallowfield, principle and director of health risk management for Gibson in South Bend, IN, sees great benefit for companies that have access to onsite or near-site clinics. “For our clients we see a 20 to 30% reduction in emergency room visits, a 10 to 30% reduction in primary care costs, a 10 to 20% reduction in the cost of generic drugs, and a 20 to 40% reduction in the cost of brand-name drugs.”

Direct cost savings for employees make the clinic attractive, says Geihsler. “People were living with high deductibles and high co-pays. The idea of free visits and free prescriptions makes the clinic an easy choice.”

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