Harrah’s offers in-house health care | TahoeDailyTribune.com

Harrah’s offers in-house health care

Dan Thrift / Tahoe Daily Tribune / Carol Hill, left, a dealer at Harrah's Lake Tahoe, gets a tour of the employee medical clinic from nurse Sarah Calhoun on Tuesday.

STATELINE – Beginning today, more than 3,000 employees of Harrah’s Lake Tahoe can get health care services only a few hundred feet away from the casino floor.

The Stateline casino has become the third location in the Las Vegas-based company to open a 3,500-square-foot health and wellness center. The clinic, which is located near the American River Cafe, where a fitness center once stood, will be managed by Cleveland-based Whole Health Management Inc. The casino operator will pay the health care company an undisclosed management fee.

The center, part of a companywide effort, is intended to offset the rising costs of health insurance coverage, which has seen about a 13 percent annual increase nationally among U.S. companies.

“We’re in the gaming business. We’re not experts in the medical field,” said Juliet Vestal, Harrah’s Entertainment director of health care management.

The clinic is open from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily and covers a segment of all three shifts at the casino – day, graveyard and swing. It will be staffed with one full- and one part-time doctor, one part-time and three full-time registered nurses, two technicians, a physical therapist, a receptionist and a dietitian taking scheduled appointments.

A physical therapy room comes with big exercise balls and a total gym with an elliptical machine. There’s also a traditional lab and physician rooms down the hall.

Terese Kewak, Whole Health’s client services manager, said her company has opened similar facilities for Sprint, Continental Airlines and Nissan.

“Some of these services can be expensive,” she said, citing a full physical exam costing between $50 to $100.

Harrah’s sought a convenience for their employees to seek low-cost medical services, primarily in the area of preventive care.

“A cough can go on for six months if it’s not treated,” Kewak said.

The thought is, if an employee receives early treatment, then the ailment may not lead to more debilitating conditions that may keep the employee out of work.

Dr. William Everts, a Stateline resident, called it a “win-win” situation.

“We need a way to put a brake on things (like serious conditions),” he said. “I think it will make Harrah’s a preferred employer.”

For an office visit, employees pay a $10 out-of-pocket payroll deduction for access to a multitude of on-site health care separate from their medical insurance policies. They include blood tests, vaccinations, physical therapy and full exams. Spouses and family members are eligible.

Waves of employees took a tour Tuesday to check out the facility, a $1 million investment. Two large bowls of apples and oranges lined the nursing station shelf for the employees.

Harley Beals, a 23-year Harrah’s slot repairman, was ready to sign up to have a doctor check his back pain.

“This being here makes it more convenient. I’ll just come here after work,” he said.

Earlinne Huntsman, a front desk clerk, liked the idea behind a poster on the facility wall labeled 101 ways to cope with stress – “Learn to say no more often.”

“That’s what I need to do,” she said, chuckling.

Aimee Morales, spokeswoman for Barton Memorial Hospital, said her facility doesn’t view the Harrah’s clinic as competition.

“We’re happy for Harrah’s they’re offering this to their employees,” she said.

Barton has been teaming up with El Dorado County to offer on-site health screenings at small businesses located in the county. Four of the eight visited in the pilot program are located at the South Shore. The idea supports providing access to preventive care.

County Public Health Officer Gayle Erbe-Hamlin said she applauds Harrah’s for the effort on the other side of the county line.

“To make it work, you need a sufficient number of employees,” she said, adding she hasn’t heard of company-based medical clinics anywhere in El Dorado.

She said the area of medicine is so new there’s limited research on how well it affects employee health and the company’s bottom line, but she’d be interested in the upcoming outcomes.

“But the research has shown that if companies make it easier to access health care, it will pay off economically and health wise in the long run,” she said.

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