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The Urgent Care Association (UCA) is the premier resource for urgent care industry news, information and statistics.

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INDUSTRY NEWS: The COVID-19 Impact on Small to Midsize Urgent Care Organizations

Author: UCA Admin/Tuesday, April 21, 2020/Categories: Industry News

When it comes to treating the COVID-19 pandemic across the country, there is no one-size-fits-all approach. While some urgent care centers are on the front lines of the pandemic and seeing a surge in patients, many smaller or independent centers are struggling to get tests and the necessary PPE. These clinics, such as UCA members PrimeCare Urgent Care in Daytona Beach, Florida and Family Choice Urgent Care in Bend, Oregon, are unable to access needed materials and are experiencing drastic drops in volume.

Patients are doing all they can to avoid exposure to COVID-19 and may not be seeking care for non-emergent conditions. In addition to following shelter-at-home orders, the expanded use of telemedicine offerings and oftentimes conflicting messages on where to seek care from the media, many patients are delaying or avoiding care. According to the UCA’s most recent data, urgent care centers are down more than 58% in patient volume on average. However, that percentage may be significantly higher for smaller organizations, particularly those not serving populations in a pandemic epicenter.

“Both of our centers remain open, but we have seen a 65% drop off in visits,” said Lisa Lehman, director of operations at PrimeCare.

Over on the west coast at Family Choice Urgent Care, the decline in patient volume is even greater at 75% following the issue of stay-at-home orders. “Initially, people with respiratory symptoms started coming in to be tested, but when the public realized that no one in our area had the capacity to do mass testing and swab kits were in short supply, people stopped coming in,” said Dr. Terri Mucha, president of Family Choice.

While smaller businesses are more likely to periodically struggle with supply problems, it is an even greater challenge to access the proper supplies since the onset of this healthcare crisis – especially test kits. “Not only can we not obtain test kits, we cannot ensure the safety of our employees due to the lack of adequate personal protective equipment (PPE),” explained Lehman.

With decreased buying power against the hospitals and more substantial healthcare organizations, many smaller centers are not included in supply prioritization. When attempting to secure test kits and equipment, Dr. Mucha expressed frustration. She has had little success getting her representatives to return her calls.

In addition, there is little help at the local and state levels. According to Lehman, a letter from the governor’s office did not address her concerns, and she has received no assistance from the local health department to date.

Smaller centers are also finding it difficult to have their voices heard during this time. Many are able and willing to help their communities, but their attempts seem to be falling on deaf ears. For instance, Dr. Mucha explained that her center was left out of a local disaster preparedness team formed by the county stating, “I have had to fight my way into any committee or discussion that involves community preparation.” She added, “Because I am small and independently owned, my clinic is not seen as important to the delivery of health care to my community despite having so much to offer and fulfill unmet needs.”

Even with these hardships, both PrimeCare and Family Choice continue to charge forward – and their spirits remain strong. Both clinics continue to maintain payroll for their staff and are doing everything they can to preserve access to urgent care in their communities while ensuring the safety of their patients and staff.

“We all understand we are putting ourselves at a greater risk, which in turns puts our families at greater risk. But we come to work each and every day to protect and care for the people who need us the most right now. We are here for the long haul,” emphasized Lehman.

Both Lehman and Mucha immediately went into action to find other means to stay afloat. Mucha purchased additional advertising with radio commercials, new ads on Facebook and more TV commercials to illustrate to the public they are still open for business.

“It is all a gamble, but I continue to plow forward for both my employees and my community,” concluded Dr. Mucha.

In a plea to obtain masks, Lehman reached out to her manufacturing contacts – and within hours, three companies dropped off N-95 masks for her staff. She also relied on contacts from unusual sources – from road crews and painters to electronics suppliers. As a result, her center now has approximately 180 N-95 masks. This is in addition to the donation of fabric masks made out of swimsuit materials from a local surf shop!

The Urgent Care Association is working hard to advocate for all of our members and the urgent care industry nationwide. We are encouraging our members to:

  • Share best practices: Our members continue to share information and best practices via our COVID-19 Listserv for operators and providers. Members can join here.
  • Visit our resource page: Check out our dedicated COVID-19 webpage at www.ucaoa.org/Coronavirus to stay up-to-date on the latest information and resources to assist in education and awareness for clinicians, operators and patients.
  • Celebrate urgent care heroes: Visit www.ucaoa.org/UCStrong to learn more about the monumental efforts urgent cares are making on the front lines of COVID-19.
  • Participate in our survey: In an effort to better understand how the COVID-19 pandemic is impacting the urgent care industry, UCA recently began surveying our members on a weekly basis to gather information and view trends. Members should look for the updated link in their inbox every Monday and take a few moments to respond to the “Voice of the Industry” survey.

We are confident patients will return when this crisis subsides. UCA will continue to advocate on behalf of all urgent care centers about the important role they play in the healthcare continuum – particularly those who find it more challenging to be heard. Together, we can make a difference and stay #UrgentCareStrong.


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