Stemilt Clinic a win for company and employees
The partnership between Stemilt Growers and Confluence Health is turning out to be a success story for Stemilt’s employees, the company and even Confluence Health. Employees, their spouses and children get access to health care paid for by the company and readily accessible from work; Stemilt is saving significant dollars in reduced health care costs as well as benefiting from having healthier employees; and local health care providers like Confluence have to spend less money on charity care for uninsured workers.
Stemilt’s foray into enhancing employee health started several years ago by contracting with AnovaWorks, an occupational health company, to treat employees who are sick or injured. “A lot of people feel shame when they get hurt at work,” Mathison told me. But employees who aren’t feeling up to snuff can’t do their best work, so having a clinic in the main Stemilt building gave supervisors an opportunity to encourage the employees take care of minor sniffles and pains.
Injuries and illnesses happen and Stemilt wanted employees to know that the company cared about their well–being.
When Stemilt started seeing positive impacts on employee health and the company bottom line, the company began conversations with Confluence Health about building on that successful pilot project and developing the Stemilt Family Clinic to provide checkups, vaccinations, prescriptions and the like.
One of the challenges with employees who are at the lower end of the socioeconomic scale is that they tend to avoid preventive care and often wait to get treatment, Mathison said. Medicines can be expensive and so for those with chronic conditions, Mathison told me, to save money some would, say, stretch one month’s supply of diabetes medicine out for a few months. Employees that are not feeling well can’t perform effectively on the job. Putting off seeing physicians also meant that when employees or their dependents ultimately went to Confluence Health for treatment, they would not have a medical baseline established.
The concept behind the Stemilt Family Clinic is elegantly simple: Stemilt offers free medical care for employees and dependents, including prescriptions, and contracts with Confluence to staff the clinic. Free prescriptions that are available soon after an appointment increase treatment fulfillment. Stemilt’s clinic maintains a 99 percent prescription fill rate, compared to 50 percent in traditional provider and third-party pharmacy set-ups.
Since there are no insurance bills to submit for reimbursement, the physicians and other staff can concentrate on providing medical care rather than filling out paperwork. Even Confluence Health Chief Executive Officer Dr. Peter Rutherford fills in out at the Stemilt Clinic from time to time, said Mathison.
About 30 percent of the visits, some 5,000 annually, are by individuals not covered by Stemilt’s health plan. These uninsured individuals would otherwise end up at Confluence Health or at Columbia Valley Community Health and likely receive charity care. Stemilt also demonstrates its commitment to prevention by creating strong incentives for every person to undergo an annual wellness exam. The company offers a 15 percent insurance discount to employees that have an annual wellness exam.
The Stemilt Family Clinic opened in 2015 and Mathison said it has been a resounding success. The company is now gearing up to extend its AnovaWorks medical program to orchards that Stemilt owns or manages.
By having a free clinic for employees and dependents, Stemilt knows that when an issue arises that needs medical attention, Confluence will have reliable and accurate information, which will make it easier for medical providers to more quickly address any issues and also reduce the angst of employees who might otherwise shy away from medical care.
The results have been impressive, Mathison said. Stemilt spends about $9 million on health care annually. In 2017, the average cost increase for similar companies ranged from 8-12 percent. Stemilt saw a 5 percent reduction in its health care expenditures. So that’s a savings of between 13 and 17 percent to the company.
The program makes good economic sense and it also follows the philosophy that was established by the late Tom Mathison, West’s grandfather. “We call it the Stemilt family,” Mathison told me. “Bad things happen to good people and free health care is an extension of that philosophy,” he added.
Caring about the well-being of employees and their families turns out to be a very good business practice. It’s great to be in a community where these kinds of collaborations are happening.