New urgent-care clinic operating near former hospital

January 30, 2011|By HEATHER KEELS |
  • Physician Assistant Eric Feldman confers with Dawn Alongi in a treatment room at the Downtown Urgent Care clinic on East Antietam Street in Hagerstown.
By Ric Dugan/Staff Photographer

HAGERSTOWN — A new urgent-care clinic is up and running in downtown Hagerstown just steps from the former hospital site.

The Downtown Urgent Care clinic at 324 E. Antietam St. opened Dec. 27 and provides walk-in care for minor medical problems like sprains, earaches, sore throats and flu symptoms, said Melissa Bowen, clinic operations supervisor.

It is the third urgent-care clinic run by Meritus Enterprises, an affiliate of Meritus Health that was formerly called Antietam Health Services.

The other two are Urgent Care Robinwood at Robinwood Professional Center and Urgent Care Sylvania on Pennsylvania Avenue.

Bowen said the health system decided to open a new clinic to keep a downtown presence after Washington County Hospital closed Dec. 11 to be replaced with the new Meritus Medical Center near Robinwood.

“When the hospital went to the mayor to get the building permit to move the hospital out there, the agreement was there’d still be a facility for the downtown population,” she said.

Health-system officials also hope having another urgent-care clinic will help relieve pressure on the new hospital’s emergency department, Meritus spokeswoman Linda Norris-Waldt said.

Meritus Medical Center’s emergency department has generally been seeing more than 200 patients a day, she said. The department budgets for 190, Meritus President and CEO James Hamill has said.

In the first month it was open, Meritus Medical Center went on yellow alert — meaning all of its emergency beds were full — six times, according to records on the Maryland Institute for Emergency Medical Services Systems website, Those alerts lasted a total of 139 hours, or the equivalent of almost six days.

Norris-Waldt said hospital officials think many of those emergency department patients could get the care they need at an urgent-care center.

The urgent care clinic has X-ray equipment and treatment rooms, and can provide stitches and fracture care, Bowen said.

“We see all of what we call ‘life’s little emergencies,’” she said. “Anything life-threatening should always refer to 911 or the (emergency department), but basically the typical strep throat, bronchitis, injuries” can be treated at the urgent-care clinic.

The downtown clinic is open from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. seven days a week, excluding major holidays.

Throughout those hours, it has at least two providers available at all times, Bowen said. Usually that means a doctor and a midlevel provider, which could be either a nurse practitioner or a physician assistant, she said.

The downtown clinic is in the same building as Home Care Pharmacy in Hager Park, formerly known as the E.J. Fennel Building.

It has five exam rooms and two procedure rooms, Bowen said.

By the end of February, Hagerstown Medical Laboratory plans to open a lab in the same building, she said.

So far, the downtown clinic has been seeing about 50 to 60 patients a day, but officials hope a recent advertising campaign will boost that number, Bowen said.

Now, most patients who go to the downtown clinic have no wait or are called back no more than five minutes after arriving, she said. That could increase as more people learn about the clinic, but its goal is for wait times never to exceed 45 minutes to an hour, she said.

Urgent care usually is less expensive than an emergency room visit, Bowen said.

“You could go to the ED with a cut finger and have a $1,500 bill, a $100 co-pay and an eight-hour wait, or you can come here and be in and out in an hour with a $20 co-pay,” she said.

With its late and weekend hours, urgent care also is a good option for patients who cannot get in to be seen soon enough by their primary care doctors, Bowen said. The clinic does not provide checkups or routine services such as prescription refills, but can treat most types of illness and injury, she said.

With the use of an electronic medical records system, the clinic will be able to access medical records of any other Meritus Enterprises/Antietam Health provider, which includes most of the doctors in the area, Bowen said.

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