SALT Heath in Bentonville is a new primary care health model that focuses on wellness, diet and exercise, according to Dr. Aunna Herbst, a family physician focused on patient health during a lifetime.
Herbst said her passion is treating families and keeping them healthy while also looking for root causes of chronic conditions like diabetes or obesity. She said spending time with patients and working with them to understand how to live healthier lives is a primary goal.
Herbst is new to Northwest Arkansas, recruited by her SALT Health founding partners Jessica and Jordan Cash. Herbst recently spent six years at the Cleveland Clinic working in functional medicine before opening SALT Health last month in Bentonville. She spent time as a family physician in rural Oklahoma before joining the Cleveland Clinic in 2015.
SALT Health just moved into its new 12,600-square-foot center at 700 S.E. Plaza Drive in Bentonville, in the Fountain Plaza development.
Jordan Cash, a healthcare administrator in the Oklahoma City area, said Herbst was his wife Jessica’s doctor several years ago and a friendship emerged. Cash said they spoke often about the need for a shift in healthcare toward wellness. As a hospital administrator, Cash sees as many as 200 patients a day at his Oklahoma hospital, seeking care for everything from accidents to chronic illnesses.
He said too often, consumers don’t seek out healthcare at the first symptoms, but they often wait for a few days after self-treating with over-the-counter remedies. When they do get to the doctor they are usually sick. Cash said the present healthcare model compensates and incentivizes doctors, and because of that doctors typically see dozens of sick patients a day to have a financially sustainable practice.
Cash said the membership model for direct health care is a win for consumers with chronic conditions and families seeking personal and direct medical care. As a SALT Health member, consumers can see the doctor when they need without a co-pay or deductible. The cost of membership is $249 a month and that includes primary care at the clinic and via telemedicine with Dr. Herbst and Taylor Morgan, a physician’s assistant recently hired by SALT. He also said the building will support up to three doctors, “numerous licensed professionals,” and up to 3,000 members.
Cash said members also enjoy the benefits of overall wellness as SALT all offers a sauna and steam rooms with a fitness center which are included in the membership. For specialized care, SALT also employs dietitians, physical trainers and massage therapists who can provide their services for additional costs.
Cash said the partners are leasing the space that was built to their specifications and has enough room to add three more physicians as membership grows. He said the partners chose Bentonville for the SALT Health location because of the wellness and quality of life emphasis the city and Benton County have embraced. He said membership health centers typically exist in much larger metro areas like Dallas or St. Louis, but believes the Bentonville and Rogers area is a good fit for the clinic.
Anyone can join SALT Health and Cash said in the first month more than 100 members have signed up. He said as more families have catastrophic coverage, they pay cash for most of the primary healthcare services. The new membership model lets individuals pay a flat monthly fee for unlimited visits and services from the clinic. Cash said the model is aimed at supplementing catastrophic care and is for workers in the gig economy who have to provide their own insurance. He said the model is also beneficial for small businesses who want to offer health and wellness benefits to employees because it’s a fixed cost and promotes wellness while also seeing after the ill.
The Kaiser Family Foundation reports the average premium for family coverage has increased 54% over the past 10 years rising to $20,575. Employee contributions in that same period grew by over 70%, from $3,515 to $6,015 in the same period. In 2019, across all types of plans, single coverage premiums totaled on average $7,188 or $599 per month. Kaiser found employers typically cover on average 72% of the annual premiums, leaving 18% to be paid by individual employees.
Cash said the membership model allows businesses to reduce the cost for primary care while also giving employees access to ancillary services such as genetic testing, specialty labs, dietary and fitness. He said SALT Health, which has eight employees, is not a franchise and is wholly owned by Dr. Herbst, himself and Jessica Cash, who also serves as the chief marketing officer for the business. Cash said the building value is around $3 million, not including the cost of land. He declined to disclose their total investment in the new clinic.
“We do have plans to open future locations, however, we are 100% focused on the Bentonville/Rogers business right now,” he said.
The name SALT Health was chosen by the partners because salt is the most diverse mineral in history. It can preserve food, heal wounds and was used as currency throughout history. Salt also helps with digestion, fights infection and assists with the transmission of nerve signals. Cash said salt is essential to human life.
Jordan and Jessica now live in Oklahoma, but have plans to move to Northwest Arkansas as SALT Health grows its membership. Cash said the partners bootstrapped the business and his day job is needed while the healthcare center gets up and running. He intends to make the area his home and said his in-laws have already located to the Bentonville area.