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District clinic opens its doors

Physician assistant Melissa Kluesner stands in one of the exam rooms in Red Wing School District's Well@Work clinic, which opened Monday. The clinic that will provide no-cost care to some school district employees. (Republican Eagle photo by Sarah Gorvin)1 / 2
Kluesner goes through paperwork in the clinic's lab Monday morning. The lab will be used to process certain tests, including those for pregnancy, and strep throat. (Republican Eagle photo by Sarah Gorvin)2 / 2

Just more than six months after it originally planned, the Red Wing School District officially opened its employer-sponsored clinic Monday. Physician assistant Melissa Kluesner began seeing patients immediately.

"It's very cost-effective and wonderful for the patients' health," Kluesner said of the clinic, which provides treatment and some prescriptions with no costs to patients.

"They don't have to come in with money in their pockets," district Director of Finance Brad Johnson said.

The clinic, located at 410 Guernsey Lane, is open to Red Wing School District employees and dependents who are covered by the district's health insurance. The idea is to lower the district's health insurance costs by providing in-house routine treatment of common illnesses, monitoring chronic issues and providing some common prescriptions.

"We're hoping both (employees and the district) benefit on this deal," Johnson said.

About 250 district employees are eligible to be seen in the clinic, Johnson said. The Education Minnesota teachers' union represents the majority of those, Red Wing Education Minnesota President Kirby Hanson said.

"A district self-clinic was something that was radically different than anything we had negotiated in the past," he said. "We were cautious of the idea at the inception."

Red Wing's is the eighth Well@Work clinic that HealthPartners operates.

The district approached the union with the idea during their last contract negotiations. By operating the clinic, the district should be able to save money on insurance premiums and employees won't have to pay insurance co-pays.

"It's certainly going to save people money. And it's going to save the district money. That's the whole philosophy behind it," Hanson said.

In addition, HealthPartners officials say giving employees convenient access to care can translate into fewer sick days and generally healthier employees.

"When employees have easy access to routine and urgent care services ..., they save time and are better able to manage their health and wellness," HealthPartners Vice President Michael McGrail said in a statement.

The clinic is located in the rear of a building owned by Red Wing Youth Outreach. That organization wasn't using all of the space and will lease a portion to the district for about $10,000 a year.

"It's a little nicer to be off (campus)," Johnson said of the location.

"An off-campus site was ideal," Hanson said, adding that employees -- citing privacy -- didn't want the clinic to be in one of the district's buildings.

Still, he said, the Guernsey Avenue location -- adjacent to Red Wing High School -- is far from employees at the elementary schools, Colvill Family Center and Tower View.

"The Youth Outreach building was not the first choice," Hanson said.

Renovating the clinic space cost the district about $200,000, Johnson said. The clinic will cost about $270,000 each year -- which covers supplies, some of Kluesner's salary, rent and administrative fees -- to operate.

Based on numbers from some of HealthPartners' seven other Well@Work clinics, Johnson said the district should have about a 2-to-1 return on investment.

The district and HealthPartners held an open house at the clinic late last month. District employees were welcome to see the clinic's two exam rooms, waiting room and lab, where Kluesner will be able to run certain tests -- including those for things like strep throat, pregnancy and cholesterol.

The clinic's 20-minute appointments include lab processing time, so patients will generally be able to get their results back before leaving the clinic.

In addition, the clinic will stock certain medications on site, and patients will be able to refill some prescriptions there as well -- all at no cost to the patient.

The district originally planned to open the clinic at the beginning of January. But the issues finding space to house the clinic pushed back the opening date about six months.

"We've been eagerly anticipating the opening," Hanson said. "Anytime you have delays, I think that's frustrating for people."

But with the clinic's opening, Hanson said he's encouraged by how professional it looks. He added that he's heard more positive feedback than negative from district employees.

"I know people who had the visited clinic during the open house were pleased with how it looks," he said. "I'm pretty excited. I think people are going to like it."

Employees covered by the district insurance aren't required to be seen at the clinic, Johnson said, and are only given the option to do so.

Because HealthPartners operates the clinic in a separate branch from its insurance, if the district chooses to go with a different insurance provider in coming years, the clinic won't be affected, Johnson said.

A different setting for Kluesner

Certified physician assistant Melissa Kluesner will be the only staff member at Red Wing School District's Well@Work clinic.

"I'm a very independent worker," she said. "I like being out here on my own. It's like having my own clinic."

Still, this will be a slightly different setting for Kluesner, who grew up in Red Wing and graduated from Red Wing High School. After earning her master's degree in physician assistant studies from Salus University in Pennsylvania, Kluesner worked for nearly four years at the urgent care center at Red Wing's medical center.

Sarah Gorvin
Sarah Gorvin has been with the Republican Eagle for two years and covers education, business and crime and courts. She graduated from the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities in 2010 with a  journalism degree.