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Chesapeake Regional to run EC employee clinic

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Chesapeake Regional Healthcare plans to operate a health clinic for city of Elizabeth City employees at a facility at 1138 N. Road Street before moving it to this site off Halstead Boulevard Extended that's currently being renovated for a convenient care clinic.

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By Jon Hawley
Staff Writer

Saturday, July 13, 2019

It took a house call, but Chesapeake Regional Healthcare has won a contract to operate a clinic for the city of Elizabeth City’s employees, retirees, and their dependents.

City Council voted 6-1 Wednesday to pay CRH almost $200,000 to operate the clinic for a year, based on city staff’s recommendation and a presentation from CRH officials, including Chief Physician Relations Officer Joe Kingery.

Councilor Anita Hummer cast the lone “no” vote, in part, she said, over concerns about approving CRH’s contract while it still needed revisions. Councilor Gabriel Adkins was absent from Wednesday’s meeting.

City Manager Rich Olson proposed the employee clinic early this year, suggesting it could boost employee productivity and morale while helping rein in the city’s health insurance costs. CRH was the lowest of three bidders for the clinic. Sentara Albemarle Medical Center and Charlotte-based HealthStat were the other two bidders.

City employees urged council to approve the clinic last month, but councilors held off until they could hear from CRH officials. Councilor Darius Horton particularly pushed for a presentation, explaining he wanted to ask operational questions not detailed in the proposed contract.

On Wednesday, Kingery recapped what CRH is offering before fielding questions. It will operate the clinic initially at 1138 N. Road Street, where it has internal medicine and surgical practices already, before moving it to a space off Halstead Boulevard Extended that’s being renovated for a convenient care clinic. CRH’s clinic will give city employees access to a nurse practitioner and other staff for walk-in exams and treatments for routine illnesses and injuries often handled by an urgent care clinic.

Employees, retirees and independents will also get free care at the clinic, except for when their lab work has to be handled offsite. Such tests will be billed to them or their insurance, Kingery said.

He also acknowledged CRH’s nurse practitioner and other staff will continue seeing non-city patients, but the city’s contract will guarantee employees, retirees and dependents priority access. The city is paying for a premium service, he said.

Answering a question from Councilor Kem Spence, Kingery also said CRH’s goal will aim to see city patients within half an hour. The clinic is intended to treat patients quickly enough that they can return to work the same day, if possible.

If multiple city employees, retirees or dependents showed up at once, the clinic would “triage” or prioritize the patients with the most serious ailment, he also explained.

Horton also asked Wednesday how the clinic would handle referrals — alluding to concerns that CRH would try to steer patients out of Elizabeth City for followup care in Chesapeake, Virginia. Kingery and CRH physicians present at Wednesday’s meeting said they would recommend patients to the best providers available, CRH or otherwise.

They and Olson also noted the clinic will try to refer employees to providers included in the city’s insurance network, holding down their cost for care.

Councilors appeared mostly satisfied with CRH’s proposal. Olson also said the contract is for one year only, which should protect the city and CRH in case the clinic costs more than $200,000 to operate. It has to be sustainable for both sides, he said.

Olson recommended approving the contract presented Wednesday, but also said it needed minor revisions, including adjusting dates to reflect services starting next month, rather than this month.

Kingery also agreed to remove language allowing CRH to terminate the contract early and without cause. Only the city would have that right under the revised contract.

Those pending changes concerned Hummer, who said she wanted to vote on the contract only when it was finalized. Hummer stressed in a phone call after Wednesday’s meeting that she wanted to help employees, but was concerned about not seeing the contract’s final draft, and whether the city was “getting into something we can’t get out of.”

It also wasn’t lost on councilors that they were supporting CRH after not supporting a grant to help the health care system open its new convenient care clinic earlier this year. CRH is pressing forward with the clinic regardless.

Councilor Johnnie Walton suggested that, had CRH presented its proposed convenient care clinic in-person like it did for the employee clinic, council might have supported it. Councilors opposed to supporting the convenient care clinic argued at the time that they didn’t want to undermine Sentara Albemarle by supporting a competitor.