Q&A with Al Bond, executive secretary-treasurer, St. Louis – Kansas City Carpenters Regional Council
IBJ: You just opened a Wellness Center for union Carpenters. How did this come about?
Bond: There were facilities like this in other places, so I went to Kansas City to explore one on a smaller scale, a 4,000-square-foot one opened a couple of years ago by the Operating Engineers. I met with Cerner Corp., who manages these health centers, hires the staff and works with the Health and Welfare Trust Fund on primary care. I came back and talked with our health and welfare administrators and asked them to do some research. We found it was a win-win-win.
IBJ: How so?
Bond: Health-care costs keep going up and up and up. We’re more or less self-insured. We’re trying to find ways to save our members’ money, save the trust fund money, and without jeopardizing any care. Our health and welfare benefits are outstanding, but we have to do something because of costs.
IBJ: I guess the idea is that a healthier workforce is better for the union, its clients and the public in general, right?
Bond: Exactly. We keep our members on the job working. They make a living for their families. They’re healthier and we’re trying to get them into a healthier lifestyle. We work real hard to get our Carpenters in to see their practitioner. Typically, Carpenters and men in general don’t go to the doctor.
What’s unique here is that they are able to come here and get a dozen different services if they choose. Most of it is no out-of-pocket cost, no copays. We have a pharmacy — no copays.
Using this facility, they don’t have to go to a primary doctor, then turn around and go to a lab for blood work, then turn around to get physical therapy, then turn around and go to a pharmacy. It’s a one-stop shop.
IBJ: Where is this located at?
Bond: It’s here on our campus, 1401 Hampton (St. Louis), where our union hall is. We had a lower parking lot in the back of the building, and we built a two-story, 20,000-square-foot building (10,000 per floor). It opened Sept. 11.
IBJ: How long did it take to build it?
Bond: We started the planning about 12 months ago. We broke ground around December. Interface (Construction Corp.) was our general contractor. Cerner currently operates health centers across the country, including centers for its own workforce and other union organizations. We are actually going to build a second one in Kansas City. We’re going to break ground this fall.
IBJ: How many people will actually be able to use the one in St. Louis?
Bond: Our largest population is within a one-hour radius of this building. I think we’ve got about 9,000 members in that group. And if you add in their families, it gets larger. Any of our members who live in Illinois, Missouri or even Kansas are allowed to use these facilities. Any of their children from 2 up can come in. We don’t have pediatricians, but they are allowed to see a doctor, get their shots or their physicals for school.
IBJ: I’m thinking that part of the idea for this center is to help in recruitment of new Carpenters? Would that be right?
Bond: I think it will be very helpful. There’s not another facility like this around. To be able to offer this service is also good for retention of members. But our primarily reason is to build a healthier population, which in the long run will save our trust fund millions of dollars in health costs.
IBJ: Do you have many lost manhours due to health issues?
Bond: It’s such an arduous and physical job. A lot of our guys work with injuries, simply because they have to. With this health program, we’re able to work with our Carpenters on stretching, staying in good shape, keeping their weight down.
IBJ: Did the members ask for anything like this beforehand or weigh in on it?
Bond: I took it before our membership delegation. I’ve got 33 locals and they elect delegates. I pitched the plan to them and was given authority to move forward. We anticipate in the first year, just in the St. Louis area, we might be able to save our plan $5 million. We spend $11 to $12 million a month on health-care benefits. That’s over and above our costs with Cerner. I anticipate this building will be paid for in about five years
IBJ: What did the building cost
Bond: $6.5 million.
IBJ: Once the guys start talking to each other this is going to get some use.
Bond: We’re already filled up, we’re booked. We anticipate expanding hours. We’re open 56 hours a week right now. We might have to hire another primary care doctor, a chiropractor or (other providers).
IBJ: How many doctors are actually staffing the facility?
Bond: Right now, we have one full-time doctor, and one full-time nurse practitioner. We also have an optometrist, physical therapist, chiropractor, massage therapist and other supporting staff as well.
Our Health and Welfare Trust Fund contracts with Cerner and they hired a great staff. The plan is, a person spends no more than five minutes in the waiting room and sits up to 40 minutes talking with the doctor before they get examined. That way, the doctor can really get to know the patients and their families.
IBJ: Have any other unions in our market done anything like this?
Bond: Not in St. Louis and not on this scale. We’re leading the cutting edge again. I believe others will (follow). We’re all in the same boat. We’re all facing the high price of medical care and prescription medicine.
IBJ: There’s no dental part to this?
Bond: Yes, there is. We weren’t able to get it all put together for now, but our goal is to have a dentist on Jan. 2.
IBJ: Are you actively looking for new members?
Bond: We are actively looking for experienced and for new apprentices. The baby boom generation continues to retire. We keep hovering right at 22,000 members. We’re not losing any and we’re not gaining any. As fast as these guys are moving into retirement, we’re bringing young people in. Our average age of apprentice is 28 years old and we’d like to see that number go down.
IBJ: You guys are continuing to find new ways to build your workforce, going into the community?
Bond: Yes, we are. We actually have a curriculum that was built by our international union. Our training people were well-involved with it. It’s a two-year program we’re offering in the high school, called Career Connections. It’s carpentry vocational training you can do in the high school. We’re finally getting some results. The school districts and school boards are finally realizing that sending everybody to college is not such a great idea.
Editor’s note: The specialties at the new Carpenters Wellness Center include: annual physicals, sports and school physicals, acute care/sick visits, video or virtual visits, vaccines and immunizations, pharmacy, preventive care and patient education for conditions and wellness, mental health and substance abuse counseling, occupational injury assessment and treatment, chiropractic, holistic pain management, on-site physical therapy, lab services, vision services, X-ray services, drug testing, wellness training (smoking cessation, nutrition classes). There are rotating specialists in dermatology, audiology, orthopedic and podiatry, and doctors can refer out for other services.
This column appears in our October edition. For more from the monthly issue, go to Current Issue at the top of ibjonline.com