For many employer sponsors, onsite health centers proved to be a valuable asset during the COVID-19, even when few or no employees came to work at company locations. In some cases, health center staff provided much-needed advice and guidance to organizations’ COVID task forces. Some provided COVID testing and vaccinations. Perhaps most importantly, many transitioned to virtual services – a significant change that will continue post-COVID and have a lasting impact on access to care.
A recent Mercer survey conducted in collaboration with the National Association of Worksite Health Centers (NAWHC), a non-profit trade association for employers that sponsor worksite health centers found that the portion of health centers that provide telehealth services by clinic staff has more than tripled over the past few years, reaching 78% (up from just 21% of health centers surveyed in 2018). During the pandemic, this allowed the health center to assist employees wherever they were. Going forward, it will allow for important continuity of care when employees who connect with health center staff virtually can also visit them in person.
Onsite health centers have taken an active role in worksite safety efforts throughout the pandemic. Many offered diagnostic testing (66%); 39% administered daily COVID screening questionnaires and 18% conducted contact tracing. Over two-fifths (42%) administered COVID-19 vaccines. These numbers are expected to increase because of President Biden’s COVID-19 Action Plan that states all employers with 100 or more employees must require onsite workers to be vaccinated or undergo at least weekly COVID-19 testing.
The pandemic has not caused health center sponsors to retrench this popular benefit; only 1% of respondents say they will decrease the number of health center locations as a result of the pandemic. About one-third (31%) of US organizations with at least 5,000 employees sponsor onsite or nearsite health centers. While health centers are most common among very large employers, smaller employers are now able to consider less resource-intensive alternatives to onsite clinics – including near-site, shared, mobile and virtual clinics.
Key considerations for employers that provide health centers or plan to provide health centers in the future include:
Given that nearly all health center sponsors (98%) cite “better access to care” as an important objective, the addition of virtual services has only strengthened the value proposition of this popular benefit. As the range of services offered at health centers continues to expand, more employers are allowing members to select their health center as their primary care provider – 71 % of respondents compared to 49% in 2015.
A worksite health center can serve as the hub of all of an employer’s benefit and wellness programs, increasing engagement and integrating care to more fully support the health of employees and their family members. Access to convenient and quality care is a critical strategy to improve health and productivity for organizations, especially given the workforce disruptions of the last 18 months and growing challenges to hire and retain workers. Our Health on Demand research has found that when a company prioritizes taking care of its employees, everything else falls into place. There are few more meaningful and visible ways to demonstrate support for employee health and well-being than by sponsoring an onsite or near-site health center.