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A Balm for Employees’Aches and Pains
Bad cough? Itchy rash?
For relief, stop by the new Employee Health & Wellness Center.

blank Katie Bell
Nurse practitioners Fran Humphrey-Carothers and Marcia Bowers gear up for whatever ails employees.

Mary Carole Kirkpatrick had been on the job in Human Resources but a few months when a nasty sore throat got the best of her. She asked a colleague to direct her to the employee health clinic. The response, that there was only an occupational injury clinic, surprised Kirkpatrick, who had assumed that in such a large health care institution there would be a designated place for employees to turn to if they’re not feeling well.

That was 14 years ago. Ever since, though other human resources needs would take precedence, the director of health and welfare for Johns Hopkins Hospital and Health System has advocated for such a clinic. In theory, she says, Hopkins leadership recognized its value, but obstacles like space and staffing persisted. Recently, with a boost from Pamela Paulk, vice president for human resources for the Hospital and Health System, and several others championing the cause—not to mention the sudden availability of a suitable location—that dream has become a reality.

Located on the third floor of the Phipps building, the new Employee Health & Wellness Center will debut in mid-September and will be open daily, from 7:30 a.m. to 4 p.m., to serve Hospital and Health System employees—free of charge. (Services are not open to University employees at this time.) Employees may walk in early in the morning or at 2:30 p.m., or may make an appointment. Only nonwork-related conditions, like upper respiratory problems, sinusitis,  uncomplicated urinary tract infections and muscular strains will be assessed and treated. Work-related injuries are still treated at the Outpatient Injury Clinic, located at Blalock 139.

The new clinic’s staff includes two nurse practitioners, two RNs and two administrative workers. In some cases, they will make referrals to primary care providers, specialists, or Employer Health Plan (EHP) case managers for more extensive assessment. Referrals will also be made to Wellnet to encourage employees to participate in programs to improve their general health.

Why does Hopkins need such a clinic? Aside from the obvious convenience, the overriding impetus has been spiraling health care costs for the more than 10,000 employees on the East Baltimore, Glen Burnie and Mt. Washington campuses. Over the past several years, Johns Hopkins HealthCare President Patty Brown and her colleagues have been studying health care trends and have found that 12 percent of Hopkins EHP members account for 70 percent of EHP dollars, numbers that mirror national statistics. And, though the everyday case of strep throat may come through the clinic door, clinicians expect to identify cases of unchecked high blood pressure or diabetes.

The idea for employee clinics isn’t new. It originated about 40 years ago, peaking in the 1970s, and gradually was considered redundant because employees preferred to see their own doctors. But with insurance premiums soaring and nurse practitioners and physician assistants assuming more responsibility, that mindset has changed. Meanwhile, from the employer’s perspective, an in-house clinic’s return on investment is 3:1 within the first three years, according to Stuart Clark, executive vice president of Comprehensive Health Services, the nation’s leading on-site medical company.

This comes as no surprise to Ed Bernacki, Johns Hopkins’ executive director of health, safety and environment. As manager of more than 50 occupational health and employee clinics for JHU and various corporations across the country manned by Hopkins nurse practitioners and physician assistants, he has proof of their success. Pepsi Corp., for example, has had an employee clinic staffed by full-time Hopkins PA Gretchen Smith since 2003.

Clinics like these, says Bernacki, have a positive ripple effect: Healthier workers mean less absenteeism, greater productivity and lower insurance outlays. Indeed, at Pepsi, Smith’s patients in supervisory positions have noted that their employees who go to the clinic for a problem usually come right back to their jobs after being treated instead of going home. Smith has also observed that employees seem more interested in taking better care of themselves. “It’s unbelievable how many questions people will ask,” she says. “They might ask me to clarify something they read on the Internet, or how supplements interact with prescription drugs.”

Overseeing Hopkins’ new East Baltimore employee clinic is Fran Humphrey-Carothers, an 18-year Johns Hopkins Hospital veteran nurse practitioner who runs a clinic for work-related injuries and occupational health on the Homewood campus. She says the new clinic at Phipps is likely to be successful because it’s an efficient, cost-effective way to treat or screen large numbers of employees.

A sizable 24 percent of Johns Hopkins Hospital and Health System union employees don’t even use their health plan, notes Kirkpatrick. “So when they do get sick,” she says, “their problems are worse than they might have been had they come in sooner.” Many of these employees end up in an emergency department, incurring substantial charges. Also disconcerting to leadership is that, based on Hopkins’ data, more than 550 employees don’t have a primary care physician. The clinic won’t replace the need for a primary care physician, stresses Kirkpatrick, “but we can lead those employees to one and help them get the preventive care they need while maintaining their privacy.” Only providers, she explains, not managers or colleagues, are privy to personal information in the occupational health database.

Kirkpatrick and Humphrey-Carothers are concerned about the clinic’s pace and recognize that there will likely be peak times for bottlenecking. A phone call to the clinic to see how busy they are may alleviate wait times. So far, there are no hours for night-shift employees, other than immediately after work, when the clinic opens.

But all that could change one day, says Kirkpatrick. With preventive health becoming a Hopkins mantra, she’s hopeful that more perks follow suit. “My dream,” she says, “is to have an entire building to house a wellness program, clinic and gym—and open it up to dependents. Now that would be cool.”

Judith F. Minkove

For more information about the Employee Health Clinic, call 410-614-1620.

 

 

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