Our View: District clinic decision risky | SteamboatToday.com

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Our View: District clinic decision risky

The Steamboat Springs School District's decision to contract with an out-of-state company to operate a health clinic should have been postponed until the local medical community had the opportunity to offer its own proposal.

Instead, the district has signed a contract with North Carolina-based Healthstat Inc. to open a health clinic for school staff in a to-be-converted janitorial storage area at the district's central offices on Seventh Street. As part of the agreement with Healthstat, the district will pay an estimated $289,000 in startup costs. That price tag doesn't include the unknown cost of renovating the 300-square-foot storage space into a clinic with patient rooms and a waiting area.

As described in the district's contract with Healthstat, signed by Superintendent Brad Meeks last week, the clinic will be staffed 20 hours each week by a physician's assistant who will be able to administer strep tests, draw blood, take a patient's biometrics and prescribe about 40 common prescription drugs. The district also will pay for a medical office assistant to help run the clinic.

District officials said the clinic will result in annual health insurance savings of $225,000 or more, beginning with the 2012-13 school year. The district is paying $1.5 million for health insurance for its employees this year, and it said many providers offer 5 to 7 percent discounts for businesses that have their own health clinics. Healthstat said the return on investment of the district operating its own health care clinic could reach $467,000 in the first three years. Meeks acknowledged last week that no one knows exactly what the ultimate savings will be.

It's laudable that district officials are eager and willing to take new approaches to cost savings, but we'll count the dollars saved when, and if, they make it to the bank. For now, the move seems like another ambitious and risky attempt to save money by taking on commitments that have nothing to do with classroom education. It was just a few months ago that the Steamboat Springs School Board agreed to go after a food services contract for Colorado Mountain College's Alpine Campus that would expand the size of the district's Nutritional Services Department from 10 to 25 employees.

Also troubling about the planned health clinic is that the district couldn't wait to try to hammer out an agreement with the local medical community. District officials have discussed the clinic with Steamboat Springs health care providers but ultimately decided to move forward with a North Carolina company instead of taking the time to see whether a local partnership could work. That decision has irked some local practitioners — many whose clinics and offices have provided health care services to multiple generations of school district staff members and their families — and, quite frankly, we sympathize with them.

School Board members said the one-year contract with Healthstat could be terminated next year if an agreement can be worked out locally. We expect the district to continue those conversations with local physicians in the coming months, just like we expect the district to provide taxpayers regular updates on the operation of the health clinic and the costs assumed by the district, as well as the savings realized. This School Board has gone all in, and now, time will tell whether it's an innovative approach to running a 21st-century school district or an ill-conceived attempt to save money by spending money.