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Duke to handle city’s employee medical services

The Duke University School of Medicine’s Division of Occupational and Environmental Medicine will be handling medical services for the City of Durham’s employees. The shift will save Durham hundreds of thousands of dollars.
The Duke University School of Medicine’s Division of Occupational and Environmental Medicine will be handling medical services for the City of Durham’s employees. The shift will save Durham hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Durham city officials have agreed on a plan to outsource employee medical services to Duke.

The agreement calls for the city to close its in-house medical unit, which currently handles pre-employment drug screening, yearly physical fitness evaluations and screenings for worker compensation claims, ceding those responsibilities to the Division of Occupational and Environmental Medicine at the Duke University School of Medicine. The shift is expected to be implemented by Feb. 1, 2010.

Officials from the City Manager’s office presented the plan to city council members Sept. 24, and it has been placed on the consent agenda for the council’s Oct. 5 meeting—meaning no member of the city council felt the matter needed any further debate, said City Council Member Mike Woodard.

“I would say chances are good that it will pass,” he said.

According to a memo outlining the proposal from the City Manager’s office, Duke was selected over Research Triangle Occupational Health Services, which is based in Durham. By outsourcing the service to Duke, the city will save $159,886 annually on personnel cost alone and will eliminate $38,579 on the cost of temporary staff.

City Manager Tom Bonfield said the plan is geared to save money for the city and that the inconvenience to employees will be minimal. City employees did not regularly use the care provided by the in-house staff, which was not offered at City Hall, but rather at North Duke Road near Durham Regional Hospital, Bonfield added.

The switch to Duke from an in-house operation would require the city to lay off three employees—a practical nurse, a registered nurse and a receptionist. Additionally, the city would incur savings without the need to pay for medical space, purchase and maintain equipment and employ certain personnel. If the changes are implemented, the city would save $115,485 for the first fiscal year and $308,683 every subsequent year, according to the memo.

A fourth position, a physician’s assistant, had not been filled for two years and was eliminated in city budget earlier this year.

Bonfield said the employees would be given approximately 10 months to find new jobs as the city transitions into its partnership with Duke.

“We have a procedure where we help our employees to find a job, and depending on how long they have been with the city, they may be entitled to severance pay,” he said, citing the city’s success in placing laid-off employees in new jobs during their workforce reduction efforts this summer. “Hopefully, we won’t get to that point because we would be able to help them in finding another job.”

Although concern over eliminating positions was a factor in his decision to support the proposal, Woodard said the employees would have adequate support from the city’s Human Resources Department in securing new jobs.

“Given the fact that they are nurses, which is a position that is always in high demand, and in North Carolina where there are several health care facilities throughout the region... these employees would have an easier time finding jobs than other city employees,” he said.

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