Graham Kilmer
MKE County

Proposal For Transit Health Clinic Sees Pushback

Transit system doesn't want new clinic on facility it may sell in the future.

By - Dec 2nd, 2022 11:31 am
MCTS bus on E. Brady St. Photo by Dave Reid.

MCTS bus on E. Brady St. Photo by Dave Reid.

A proposal to build a health clinic for Milwaukee County Transit System (MCTS) workers is running into some resistance from transit officials worried that the system can’t afford it.

The resolution, sponsored by Sup. Peter Burgelis, would have the county use $614,000 from its federal American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) allocation to develop the clinic at an MCTS facility.

The board previously approved $1.8 million in ARPA funding for three health clinics as part of a spending package intended to create long-term savings for the county through one-time investments. The idea is that employee health clinics would improve employee retention, increase access to preventive medical care and decrease health care claims.

Burgelis employs the same reasoning for the transit health care clinic. It’s also in response to an MCTS policy that operators have criticized in the past. If a driver gets off the bus because they’re not feeling well, they cannot return to the bus until they get a doctor’s note. This often leads drivers to go to urgent care or emergency rooms for doctor’s notes, sometimes for very minor issues that have already been resolved.

In an interview, Donnell Shorter, president of the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 998, shared an anecdote of an operator that had to get off the bus because a fast food beverage was disagreeing with them. This driver had to get a doctor’s note to return to the bus, despite the issue quickly resolving itself. Urgent care and emergency room visits cost the drivers money in co-pays, but the bulk of the cost for these visits is being paid for by the county.

The resolution was recommended for approval by the county board’s Committee on Transportation and Transit. Then two days later it was shelved by the county’s ARPA Task Force.

Typically, the ARPA Task Force, which only has the power to review spending proposals, would tackle a resolution like this first. But Burgelis sought to fast-track the legislation in response to the contract negotiations between MCTS and ATU that were ongoing when he drafted it. The union and MCTS finalized a labor agreement just days before it went before the transit committee and the task force.

Denise Wandke, interim managing director of MCTS, told the task force that the transit system is reviewing ways to address the projected $20 million budget shortfall it faces in the coming years and that one option on the table is reducing the system’s facilities footprint. In light of that, transit officials are hesitant to move forward with a plan that could see a clinic built at a facility that is shut down a year or two later.

Instead, Wandke said the transit system supported bus drivers having the ability to visit one of the three county employee health clinics that are already funded. “But to actually house it here, I think we still have to do some facility assessments in order to figure out exactly what MCTS looks like coming into the future.”

Tony Maze, Milwaukee County director of benefits, told the Task Force, “Absolutely yes, we would be able to incorporate MCTS within the three combined clinics. With that being said, there, there would still be an additional cost associated with that due to the number of employees that would be now eligible, that were not calculated in the original request.”

The county board ultimately retains the authority to allocate ARPA funds, and the proposal is still scheduled to go before the board’s Finance Committee and the full board.

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