published Saturday, May 14th, 2011

Chattanooga eyes health, workout facility


by Cliff Hightower

Chattanooga plans to build a 19,000-square-foot, $3.5 million health care and wellness facility at the site of the old Chattanooga Gas Co. property next to the Farmers Market site on 11th Street.

Mayor Ron Littlefield said the new facility will serve employees better than the city’s two existing health and wellness centers.

“Right now, we have a triple-wide trailer and an old service station,” Littlefield said.

The employee wellness center at 274 E. 10th St., the site of a former service station, includes a medical clinic, pharmacy and fitness center. The center on Amnicola Highway is housed in a trailer and only has a medical clinic.

City Council members are expected to vote Tuesday on a resolution to include $200,000 for the building design in the 2012 budget. The new fiscal year starts July 1.

The existing employee health centers will be closed once the new facility is built. City officials said they hope the new center will be built by fall 2012 and equipped in another year.

The new center will include a drive-through pharmacy and will have space for two doctors and a physician’s assistant, officials said. Littlefield said the center also could offer expanded wellness programs.

The mayor’s chief of staff, Dan Johnson, said significant savings from the city’s redesigned health care plan will help pay for the building. He said an internal audit report from two years ago showed city health care costs have risen only by single digits compared to double-digit increases universally.

“At that time, our costs were about $3 million less than they should have been,” he said.

Littlefield said the new center will be more attractive and convenient for employees. And parking will be ample at the former Farmers Market site and other nearby locations.

Littlefield’s spokesman, Richard Beeland, said the new center should be well-used because the current clinics are overbooked.

“Every city employee will use this facility,” Beeland said.

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timesfreepress said...

Should the city build a new health and wellness center?

May 14, 2011 at 1:39 a.m.
fairmon said...

timesfreepress said... Should the city build a new health and wellness center?

Absolutely not. The city should not be in the fitness center, pharmacy or medical clinic business. They are subsidized by tax payers and compete with local businesses. City owned businesses pay no property taxes and are self/tax payer insured plus they bring other cost to tax payers such as parking areas and maintenance cost.

It is a subjective judgment that a fitness center reduces health care cost greater than construction and operating and maintenance cost. It is evident all employees and their covered dependents do not regularly use the facility. City ownership and providing a fitness facility assumes this should be part of an employees comp and benefits package. The fitness center benefit should be a shared (50/50) membership at a local YMCA. A cost plus agreement with a local pharmacy and medical clinic with a shared cost plan for employees would be comparable to the better comp and benefits plans provided by the top tier of employers in the MSA.

It is an unsettling concern that elected officials supporting and advocating city ownership of these facilities also benefit from them. This begs an answer to the question of who is representing tax payers in the decision making process? Should there be a totally independent cost/benefit analysis, including lost property tax revenue and other cost, plus a survey of comp and benefits comparison for like work within the metropolitan supply area? Appropriate adjustments should be made based on the results.

In addition the city owns other businesses that compete with and adversely impact privately owned businesses such as two golf courses, hotels, a marina and others plus significant unimproved real estate. City government could be viewed as having socialist government tendencies.

A response from a city council member or the TFP would be welcome.

May 14, 2011 at 6:30 a.m.
bpqd said...

The main result of the city having a gym is that it can provide a legal loophole to escape paying liabilities for any health-related damages it may incur when directing city workers to do labor.

If the existing gym is too small, which it obviously is, then the plausibility of that loophole closes.

Intrusion on commercial health clubs in the area is negligible, and not a part of the task and purpose of a corporation or government operating a health facility.

On the up side, if the city builds a gym, maybe its employees will go. The shocking obesity of some of our city employees shows that they need something other than sedentary activities.

Paying a religious organization, like the YMCA, is not an acceptable alternative. Paying a commercial operation, like the Sports Barn or Rush, is not acceptable, either.

Organized, mandatory, physical training sessions, with the government fully responsible for every injury and conditioning incident, comparable to a military PT program, is the lowest-cost answer. Required equipment? Tennis shoes, shorts, T-shirt, and plenty of grass for push-ups.

And, oh, yes: direct responsibility.

Actually taking direct responsibility for the health and wellness of subordinates immediately negates any legal cover the city might want to take when denying their way out of a health related claim.

So, their position is that they need to look like they care about health, without actually committing to acting in favor of health.

This is why gyms are built, and then left standing there.

Which begs the question, why would Mayor Littlefield want to build a gym? He still has not built other structures he said he would build. And, there are ample vacant or unused properties which could be immediately used as places to workout, without any reconstruction.

The cronies are obviously up to something with commercial real estate. Once again, it has nothing to do with safeguarding our welfare. The gym is not for the employees or the people.

Who is it for?

May 14, 2011 at 8:05 a.m.

Anything that littlefield suggests has ulterior motives. The man is a sneak and not interested in the the common folks of Chattanooga.

bpqd nailed it. thanks

May 14, 2011 at 12:43 p.m.
midnitewatchman said...

Beeland says "Every city employee will use it". Sounds like to me mandatory annual physicals for city employees. If City goverment has said this property has been cleared from being contaminated and the County Goverment says it has not, which is it?

May 14, 2011 at 6:48 p.m.
fairmon said...

The employer is liable for medical expenses for any illness or injury sustained in the course of employment. Gym or no gym that does not help or hinder the city unless someone is injured using the facility. YMCA not acceptable then reimburse a set amount each month with verification by an approved facility that the employee did participate in exercise programs at least 3 times per week. This would primarily be for fire and police personnel that needs to maintain good physical conditioning. A limited reimbursement program similar to some the way businesses encourage and support employees that will utilize the health benefit of exercising. There would be no additional liability or expense to tax payers.

An employer can establish fitness standards for some jobs if it is validated. They could possibly require fitness exercise and training during normal work hours and that may not hold if legally challenged.

I repeat the city should not be the owner/operator of any business that competes with a privately owned business. Who do we have in all of city government that has ever managed a business that can be compared to the size of the business of city government.

Apparently no elected member of city government reads or responds to the TFP articles of interest. It would be a good way to educate those of us they would be likely to say "just don't understand". That is possible so please help me understand the government activities and logic for the decisions. After all we do pay for each and every item.

May 14, 2011 at 9:08 p.m.
NoMyth said...

This is shocking. Not only do city employees have so little work to do that they are able to run side businesses, but now the taxpayers--in addition to paying people who do very little--will also provide them with a state of the art health and wellness facility? The rampant obesity among the local populace--and likely even more rampant among city workers--will not be lessened as a result of a new fitness facility. All of these obese people will flee the city as soon as the clock strikes 3:30 PM and head to their posh county estates (where they don't have to pay city taxes), then eat a big plate of fried food followed by ice cream and never set foot in the fitness center...ever. People in this area need a reality check...they are following a self-destructive lifestyle. The city would be better off banning parking of vehicles on their property and giving every employee a shiny new bicycle so they can get their fat arses moving.

May 14, 2011 at 10:28 p.m.
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