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Health clinic tossed from Port St. Lucie is pick for teachers

STORY BY EILEEN KELLEY, (Week of September 6, 2012)

An advisory panel recommended last week that the Indian River County School District choose a company to set up and run a new employee health clinic that was ousted from Port St. Lucie after municipal workers complained about the high turnover rate of doctors and unclean conditions.

While School Board Vice Chairman Carol Johnson seemed eager to move forward, saying employees have gone years without raises and need a free health clinic as a reward, Chairman Jeff Pegler said he was concerned how taxpayers would view establishment of an employee health clinic so soon after the School District asked for more than $32 million in tax increases to pay for basic education services.

During their discussions last week, school officials talked about broadening the scope of clinic services to include a nutritionist, a dietician and an exercise physiologist.

The company endorsed by the advisory panel, CareHere of Tennessee, said it could operate the clinic for roughly $1 million a year, but the start-up cost for the first year would be higher as the school district would have to buy numerous prescription drugs, supplies and possibly an X-ray machine.

While School Superintendent Fran Adams said she wanted the clinic up and running by January, the School Board agreed to hold another work- shop on the clinic Oct. 9, and no date for a final vote has been set.

“My concern is the community,” said Pegler.

Pegler said the board was nowhere near ready to vote on the clinic and much more information is needed, including a survey of employees to determine if they would use the facility.

CareHere, which manages some 100 clinics nationwide and 20 in Florida, was ironically the group being pushed by Vero Beach city officials to establish a clinic for Vero municipal employees several years ago.  The idea died when CareHere and its partner Crowne Consulting ultimately failed to persuade the City Council that creating the clinic would produce any savings.

When the idea was floated in Vero Beach, its Palm Beach insurance consultant, the Gehring Group, would have been paid $179,000 if the deal have gone though.

The Indian River County School District uses Brown and Brown consulting out of central Florida to broker its insurance needs. The firm took part in selection of the four firms that made the district’s short list. 

An employee at the company’s office in Leesburg told Vero Beach 32963 he would have to call the school district and to get permission to talk to us before discussing whether the company is being compensated and what other role it is playing in the establishment of the clinic.  The employee then never returned the call.

In 2007, Port St. Lucie became the first city in the state to open a health clinic. The city has since worked with three health-care firms since it cut its ties with CareHere more than a year ago.

Port St. Lucie benefits specialist Claudia McCaskill told Vero Beach 32963 that employees didn’t think they were getting the best care from the CareHere/Crowne team.

That came as a surprise to Ray Tomlinson, who founded Crowne Consulting as a human resources company and later approached CareHere and formed a business partnership with them.

Tomlinson said he tore up the contract with Port St. Lucie after it became obvious that politics was coming into play with a number of new administrators and elected officials there.

“We never got the word that they weren’t happy,” Tomlinson said.   He said he grew frustrated and cancelled the contract when it appeared the city was going to hire another contractor and attempted to bring a CareHere doctor over to its new operation.

He said the only other public agencies to severe ties with his organization were the Lee County Sheriff’s Office and the city of Palm Bay.

 “I think that is a very good track record,” Tomlinson said.