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SCKMC Seeks Urgent Care

September 22, 2014

(Cowley County, Kansas): According to the National Center for Health Statistics, approximately 130 million patients visit hospital emergency rooms each year. Up to eighty-percent of those ER visits, are due to a lack of access to other providers, and the majority are not considered serious enough to qualify for "emergent" status. This over use of emergency services has prompted a new type of healthcare service, the urgent care center.

(Cowley County, Kansas): According to the National Center for Health Statistics, approximately 130 million patients visit hospital emergency rooms each year. Up to eighty-percent of those ER visits, are due to a lack of access to other providers, and the majority are not considered serious enough to qualify for "emergent" status. This over use of emergency services has prompted a new type of healthcare service, the urgent care center.

Urgent care centers are walk-in medical clinics which treat injuries or illnesses requiring immediate care, but not serious enough to require an ER visit. Kansas currently has twenty-seven urgent care facilities within the State. South Central Kansas Medical Center is hoping to have the next center located in Cowley County if a ten-year, one-half cent sales tax is approved during the November election.

"The funds received through the sales tax would allow us to focus on the projects that we feel would have a long-term, positive impact on the quality of healthcare being delivered within Cowley County. An urgent care center, or some form of after-hours clinic is definitely one of the items on that list," said Steve Perkins, SCKMC's Chief Executive Officer.

Hospital administrators state that a national physician shortage is causing more people to put off receiving treatment until their condition becomes emergent, or go to Emergency Rooms to receive care for non-emergent conditions when they cannot be seen anywhere else.

"There are many barriers that prevent the community from accessing the appropriate level of healthcare. Some want to see a physician but can't due to the doctor's patient load, limited clinic hours, or their own inability to take time off of work. Typically we will see these types of patients in the ER for non-emergent ailments," said Shelley Pinnegar, SCKMC's Manager of Nursing Services. "On the other hand, those with limited financial resources may not seek any form of healthcare initially due to the inability to pay, but then end up in ER after their illness has gotten so severe that they have no other choice."

Urgent care centers are typically open for extended hours and offer a much lower cost alternative to seeking care through the ER. Non-emergent charges for emergency room visits can cost hundreds of dollars more than the clinic equivalent. These non-emergent hospital visits are regularly not covered by insurance, and become the patient's responsibility for payment.

This large percentage of "self-pay" often requires the medical center to support the patient through their healthcare financial assistance program, or long-term payment arrangements.

"Since 2009 SCKMC has provided over eight- million dollars in uncompensated care locally. Every day we write off more than $44,000 worth of services to Medicare or Medicaid, insurance companies and to those who cannot pay their bills," said Holly Harper, SCKMC's Chief Financial Officer.

The medical center believes an urgent care center would be of great benefit to the community, but with over 7,000 patient visits to their emergency department annually, it would also help to alleviate some of the strain placed on the hospital's ER staff.

"Having an urgent care center would allow the staff to focus more on the treatment needed for those that are critically ill or injured. With a high percentage of our ER population seen for non-emergent illnesses or injuries, staff can become spread thin caring for someone whose care might be more appropriate in an urgent care center," Pinnegar, said.

According to hospital officials, a location, and timeline for a local urgent care center has yet to be established, as its development is dependent upon the outcome of the sales tax vote.

"We would love to say that we will be opening the doors to an urgent care clinic tomorrow. We know the need is there, however we must continue to balance the health needs of the community with good fiscal stewardship," Perkins said.


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