Charting new ground for LIUNA, the Laborers Health and Wellness Center – a free, convenient care clinic, exclusively for Laborers and their families – opened January 16, 2009, in Las Vegas.

Free member convenient care clinic in Las Vegas.

The clinic is modeled on the fast-rising trend of retail health clinics designed to fill the niche for working families between inconvenient, daytime hours at many doctors’ offices, the restricted services at urgent care centers and the high cost of hospital emergency room care.

All PPO participants in Local Union 872’s health and welfare fund can use the clinic for all-family, health services including sinus infections, strep throat, ear aches, pink eye, vaccinations, minor sutures, x-rays, urinary and bladder infections, burns, pregnancy testing, seasonal allergies, vomiting and diarrhea, sunburn, sprains, abrasions and physical exams.

Operated by Take Care Health Systems, a division of Walgreens, the clinic is staffed by a full-time doctor, a part-time doctor, a managing nurse, a physician assistant, three nurses and various support personnel. It has a pharmacy and a lab. Medical records are electronically maintained.

All clinic services are free, which compares to the $75 fee paid by the fund and the additional, $20 participant co-pay for a visit at an urgent care center. The availability of free services is already accelerating switches from the fund’s HMO to its PPO, a process that facilitates Doug Twilligear’s Patient Advocate efforts.

The clinic is expected to sharply reduce emergency room visits, a practice which is customary among the union’s many Hispanic families. Its opening was widely announced on local Spanish radio, drawing complaints from some competitors who heavily rely upon – and heavily charge – Las Vegas’ Hispanic community. The build-out cost the fund $245,000; the clinic’s managing budget is $1.2 million. “That’s a bargain,” says Local Union 872’s Business Manager Tommy White. “Avoiding just one unnecessary surgery can earn it all back.”

To overcome potential obstacles in establishing one clinic to serve the entire Las Vegas metropolitan area, the fund used zip code data to determine the greatest concentrations of union-family residences. It then found a location in the most concentrated area, on a main thoroughfare, across the street from one of the city’s most respected hospitals.  Eventually, the fund hopes to open additional clinics.

Though just getting started, the clinic will further enhance the strong ties between local LIUNA members and their union, according to Patient Advocate Twilligear. “The clinic is a very concrete symbol of the union’s commitment to its membership’s well-being.”

[Steve Clark]