Wednesday, January 24, 2018
Health

Tarpon Springs clashes with hospital over employee clinic

TARPON SPRINGS — Leaders at the local branch of Florida Hospital clashed with city leaders last week over whether Tarpon Springs should include the hospital in its plan to build a health clinic for city employees.

The clinic, which would be built in partnership with Oldsmar and the Florida League of Cities, would be designed to provide better health care access for city employees, encourage preventive care and possibly save money on health premiums.

But leaders at Florida Hospital North Pinellas confronted city leaders Tuesday about what they considered to be a terrible oversight. As the city's biggest employer, they argued, doesn't the hospital deserve to be a part of the agreement?

"I'm just livid, I apologize, I was not intending to be this angry," Michael Kouskoutis, a hospital board member said during a Tuesday night commission meeting. "We have physicians, we have hospitals, we have surgical teams that are a benefit to this community. And given the chance, we would love to sit down about providing services for city employees. But you know what? No one asked, and that's shameful."

Paul Hoover, vice president of business development for Florida Hospital North Pinellas, told commissioners the hospital could likely provide better services than a clinic because it's open more hours and has more doctors.

But similar clinics around the state, including one in Tampa and one shared by Clearwater and Dunedin, have reaped thousands of dollars in savings for cities and have been popular with city employees and their families.

The clinic would work like this: The League of Cities, which insures the city through United Healthcare, would pay startup costs and hire a vendor to manage the clinic. Employees would be encouraged to get routine medical care and wouldn't have to take sick time from work to do so.

The clinic would operate 12 hours per week, and employees could get free visits and generic medications. The idea is to decrease insurance claims and pass that savings on to the cities in the form of lower premiums.

Due to their lopsided number of employees, Tarpon Springs and the smaller city of Oldsmar would split the roughly $2,000 cost of a lease 70-30. The office space under consideration is on U.S. 19 south of Alderman Road.

Tarpon Springs Mayor David Archie said no final decisions on the clinic have been made, and there could still be time to broker an agreement that makes the hospital happy. But he also defended the city's handling of the proposal.

"I have not seen (the hospital) come and offer any type of services to the city in terms of trying to help our employees here, and I think this goes two ways," he said. "I don't want to have an adversarial relationship with the hospital."

City Manager Mark LeCouris seemed angry at the attempt to derail the existing plan, which has been in the works for several months. He said the city should proceed with the clinic as planned.

"It doesn't make much sense to scuttle this," LeCouris said. "You're just hurting the employees of the city, that's all you're doing."

Joe Roseto, Clearwater's human resources director, estimates Clearwater nets more than a million dollars in savings per year because employees are getting preventive care and filing fewer and less expensive claims.

Several city employees have also blocked early-stage cancers and other ailments that might have been more serious and expensive if they hadn't seen a doctor early, he said.

"You save in the claims," he said. "But the big savings will come if you can save on catastrophic care."

Brittany Alana Davis can be reached at [email protected] or (850) 323-0353.

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