The Reporter (Lansdale, PA)
BREAKING NEW GROUND
Healthcare center’s projected savings attracting interest
The big day is less than a week away. North Penn officials now have a date for the opening of the district’s longplanned healthcare center.
“The healthcare center has really turned a corner, and it’s nearing occupancy,” district Director of Facilities and Operations Tom Schneider told the board facilities committee this week. “The facility is scheduled to open, soft opening, on Monday March 6th, and a full opening on the 7th of March, Tuesday.”
District officials and the school board have discussed an in-house healthcare center since prior to COVID-19 and have said it’s meant to allow the district to provide staff and families on district healthcare plans services via a nationwide provider, with projections that it could reduce healthcare costs by up to $10 million over ten years by providing lowercost treatments and options before medical issues grow costly.
The school-affiliated center is the first of its kind in southeastern Pennsylvania. Staff are already fielding calls from other districts and state educational associations about visiting and touring the facility, according to district CFO Steve Skrocki, who added that he’s trying to schedule as many of those visits as possible early on to minimize conflicts with patients. A grand opening ceremony with ribbon cutting will likely be scheduled in the last week of March.
Over the past two years, staff chose a site near Penndale Middle School, before awarding contracts for clinic operator Everside and various aspects of the construction and utility work last summer. In mid-January, the prefabricated building had been delivered and was being installed on the site, and at the end of that month that utility connections were being completed, and a change order secured board approval in February, as staff aimed at a target opening date sometime in early March.
Borough inspections resulted in a use and occupancy inspection earlier Monday, and the building will be occupied for the rest of this week as clinic operator Everside sets up their IT infrastructure, medical items, furniture and equipment, Schneider told the committee. Fire alarm testing will also be done this week, as will installation of a remaining handrail on the exterior ramp, along with some grading around the ramp leading from the nearby parking lot to the entrance.
“The contractor still needs to paint the exterior of the building so it all matches, so the building’s coming along very well,” he said, showing the committee a series of photos of the outside and inside of the clinic.
“We are planning to purchase and install some wooden shutters to make it look like more of a residential building, but it really does look nice,” Schneider said.
Interior furniture has already been installed in the main medical office, and the facility will contain three exam rooms, with a fourth that could be converted if needed, Schneider said.
“The waiting area is small, because we don’t anticipate having a lot of people in the waiting area at the same time.
Families or individuals come in, go into the exam room, and we would space them out as much as possible so you wouldn’t have a lot of people sitting in the area, waiting to be cared for,” he said.
Skrocki added that the medical staff who will work in the clinic will spent the rest of this week setting up, eligible employees will be sent info on the clinic this week, and the system they can use to make appointments will likely go live next week.
“For us to save money, we need to open, and now that we’ll be open, we need to drive traffic into the healthcare center. I’m pretty confident, based on what we’re hearing from our employees and our associations, that people are anxious and ready to start using the healthcare center,” he said.
“It’s all systems go,” he said.
One public comment on the center was fielded, from resident Jason Lanier, questioning the funding sources to be used for the building and whether it would ultimately be used for students.
“Is it planned, at some point, to be used for treating students? Either with or without their parents’ knowledge? I say that because, in other states, this is exactly what’s happened with healthcare clinics: minor children are being treated for various things in clinics, on school grounds, without their parents’ knowledge,” he said.
Regarding the financials, Skrocki said, he is in the process of responding to a right-to-know request from the resident seeking that same information, and the board will discuss a fund transfer in an upcoming finance committee meeting to partially cover those costs. And on the uses, according to the CFO, the only students who would be allowed to use the center would be those who are dependents on district employees’ health care plans.
“If a child is a dependent on a parent’s plan, and they are a minor, they cannot make an appointment on their own. If they’re the age of majority, like say a college student and still covered on their parents’ plan, they certainly can make an appointment to go to the healthcare center, if they have an issue,” he said.
“But if you have a North Penn student, that does not have a parent on our plan, they can’t access the healthcare center. We’ve been pretty clear with that from the beginning,” Skrocki said.
Once the usage is stabilized, staff have discussed the possibility of offering physical exams for students on school sports teams, but no set plans have been developed to do so, he added.
Superintendent Todd Bauer gave a guarantee: “While I’m the superintendent, and while this board is the elected officials representing our school district, a student would not be provided with healthcare, without a parent’s permission.”
“What Mr. Skrocki is talking about, physical exams for some of our student-athletes, if we’re able to do that, that’s great — as a service, for students and their families, if they choose to elect to participate,” Bauer said.
Scheduling those physical exams can be difficult, particularly in late summer when demand is highest ahead of a new schoolyear, he added, but no plans to do so are currently in the works.
“If that’s something we may be able to offer, years down the road, that would be great. But that would just be an elective thing, that parents choose to utilize,” Bauer said.
North Penn’s school board next meets at 7 p.m. on March 13 and the facilities and operations committee next meets at 7 p.m. on March 27; for more information visit www. NPenn.org.