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A New York Town Goes Big With Post-COVID Telehealth

Babylon, located in Long Island, offers its workers doctor, therapist and even dietitian services via a tool from Radish Health. The town supervisor explains the benefits so far and what’s still to come.

A person holding a stethoscope up to digital icons.
Clerks and other workers sitting at their desks all day.

Public works and other blue collar “tough guys” eating fast food and lifting heavy items incorrectly.

A general, perhaps generational, aversion to mental health.

Rich Schaffer, the town supervisor of Babylon, N.Y. — a Long Island town that employs more than 800 full- and part-time employees — knows that local government work isn’t always the best path to an active, healthy lifestyle. Sure, benefits can be robust and sick days easily available, but keeping one’s mind and body in the best condition requires a certain work culture, too — along with the right software and mobile tools.

What Schaffer is doing to foster that culture is a story at the intersection of health care, technology and local government. It’s also a story about how habits formed during the pandemic are now informing how at least one municipality plans to make its operations more efficient.

“This is the way to get better employees,” he told Government Technology, explaining in his Long Island accent how Babylon came to sign a five-year deal with a New York City-based provider of digital health-care services called Radish Health. “Everyone needs to be doing it.”

The story begins during the COVID-19 outbreak when Radish provided the town with contact tracing and screening services, along with on-site vaccination clinics. Radish describes itself as a “concierge health-care program,” and its clients receive via their connected devices what the company calls “a dedicated, coordinated care team, along with a navigator to help them find additional in-network resources.”

The general idea is to make personal health care more streamlined by reducing waits for clients to access medical care, advice and information.

As Viral Patel, a former emergency room doctor who is Radish’s CEO, told Government Technology, the company aims to stand above other telehealth services by offering patients digital access to their own doctors and health-care professionals, including therapists and dietitians. Radish can also set up lab appointments and help with a variety of tasks that are often time-consumers and barriers to health care for many people.

“Most of the stuff we do is via online text and video,” he said. “One of the problems being solved is that it keeps people from having to take a half-day off” for health-care appointments. “We do on occasion — and have with Babylon — send medical assistance on site.”

That might include flu shots or COVID-19 boosters.

Full-time public-sector employees typically have health insurance through their jobs, but Radish goes beyond that and functions on its own. Babylon pays the company $15 per month for each employee who uses this telehealth service. The town so far has paid at least $158,000 for the Radish service and has budgeted at least $80,000 more to keep access, according to information from the company.

Other cities are “in the pipeline” to start similar programs, though Babylon stands out as the main case study from Radish at this time.

Schaffer’s enthusiasm for the service comes through clearly.

He talks about his own ongoing experience with a personal trainer, and how he persuades his employees to consider mental health as important as their physical health — indeed, he said he has told those under him that a mind stuffed full of too many negative emotions and unresolved problems is hardly different from the discomfort of constipation.

He is also big on proper nutrition and says that employees using Radish have even started trading new recipes thanks to the encouragement provided by the service.

But the big thing, at least from an operational point of view, is that employees are working more efficiently, at least according to Schaffer, and that increased productivity could reduce overtime and lead to better delivery of services to residents.

“The culture is changing around this,” he said.

That certainly doesn’t mean Babylon was a model of terrible local government before Radish came to the rescue.

It just means that Schaffer is determined to use the service to promote even more wellness for town employees, including a “strength and conditioning” program that amounts to two hours a week “on town time,” an hour of paid time per week for “mindfulness walks” that he likened to meditation, and even yoga. As well, the town is looking to add even more local doctors to its Radish access.

“This is the wave of the future,” he said.
Thad Rueter writes about the business of government technology. He covered local and state governments for newspapers in the Chicago area and Florida, as well as e-commerce, digital payments and related topics for various publications. He lives in Wisconsin.