SANTA ROSA -- Amy's Kitchen has taken a unique step among Sonoma County employers in opening a primary care clinic at its southwest Santa Rosa production facility, a move the maker of natural convenience foods said will help reduce health care costs and increase convenience and health for employees and their families.

The clinic, called Amy's Family Health Center and operated by Wisconsin-based QuadMed, is the company's second such clinic. The first one opened in early January at the 700-employee Medford, Ore., production facility, according to Cindy Gillespie, human resources director for the Santa Rosa facility, which has 765 employees. Planning began more than a year ago for both sites, but the company was able to move more quickly on the Oregon site.

Petaluma-based Amy's did not disclose financial details of the arraignment, but the company did say it was a clear response to ever-increasing health care premiums.

"We were experiencing huge increases in health care costs," Ms. Gillespie said. "We started looking into this model of participating a little more in the delivery of health care to employees. I think if you have the population, you can do it."

The clinic, staffed by a primary care physician and a licensed vocational nurse, who are both bilingual, will augment Amy's current employee health insurance, not replace it, Ms. Gillespi said. She added that Amy's didn't experience any significant uptick in workplace injuries over the past two years, but simply endured premiums hikes felt across just about any given industry.

The clinics focus on preventive care, illness treatment, chronic conditions, health and wellness coaching and coordination with specialty health services. The co-pay is $5 and the clinic is open to employees and their family members -- irrespective of participation in the employee health insurance plan.

"As long as the employee is covered, family members can come," Ms. Gillespie said. "Family members don't need to be on the plan. If we're trying to get employees to improve their health, it's kind of a family event."

Amy's employs more than 1,800 in Santa Rosa, Oregon and England. In the two U.S. locations, the company covers health insurance for 1,393 employees and 284 "dependent units." The number of actual dependents is not known and likely far greater than that, Ms. Gillespie said. The company also has very few part-time employees working less than 24 hours per week -- maybe 10 in Santa Rosa -- meaning nearly all employees and family members can use the clinics.

The family-owned company's foray into the health care landscape echoes what a number health experts have long said: a focus on preventive, primary care will cut down on health care utilization and make for a healthier, more productive workforce.

"Convenience is a big part of this," Ms. Gillespie said, noting that the $5 entry point is a key selling point of that convenience. "But it's also the whole health model -- to help people think about prevention. If people are healthier, they're going to have less expensive health costs."

Sonoma County, and the North Bay in general, comprises mostly smaller employers who don't have the capacity for such a clinic, she acknowledged. She also noted the difference between what Amy's is doing versus higher-end operations used as recruiting tools at companies like Google.

"We're really going to have a huge impact on the health of our employees," she said.

The QuadMed clinic also will be used solely for employees and their families, and not for workplace injuries or to treat workers' compensation claims.

QuadMed began in 1990 as an onsite medical facility for Quad/Graphics and now serves a number of Fortune 1000 companies. Amy's selected QuadMed over two other providers, because it is a family company too.