Even though 69-year-old Margaret King was in misery after she fell off a kitchen stool last month and broke her wrist, she refused to be taken to a hospital emergency room.
Instead of calling paramedics, King telephoned a neighbor to ask for a ride to an urgent health care clinic that she had driven past many times while running errands.
The ride to the emergency room at Glendale Adventist Medical Center would have been much shorter, but King's wrist needed immediate attention, and, the Eagle Rock resident said, she "didn't want to wait forever in a hospital."
It is situations like this that have prompted Glendale Adventist Medical Center to jump into the rapidly growing field of urgent health care, where patients are treated for illnesses or injuries that are not life-threatening but require speedy medical attention.
Second Local Hospital to Act
The medical center next month will become the second large hospital in Glendale to offer an urgent care program in an attempt to compete with the area's small private clinics, which offer cheaper and quicker service to people who five years ago would have taken their business to hospital emergency rooms, said Dr. Barry Staum, medical director of Glendale Adventist's emergency department.
"In recent years, many of our patients have begun to seek service at these urgent care clinics, and I think that means they're trying to tell us something," Staum said. "I think it's time for us to respond to that."
Plans call for people entering the hospital's emergency department to be examined by a triage nurse, who will determine whether the patient's injuries are serious enough--such as heart attacks or gunshot wounds--to require emergency attention.
Treatment Less Expensive
If the situation is not life-threatening, the person will be treated as an urgent care patient--for about half the price of regular emergency treatment.
Previously, anyone entering the emergency room had to pay an average of about $90, compared to the urgent care price of $39. Memorial Hospital of Glendale charges the same amount for its urgent care program, which was established last summer.
In addition, urgent care patients should be in and out of the hospital in about one hour, instead of longer waits sometimes encountered when the emergency room is busy, nursing unit coordinator Peggy Daly said.
In opening its urgent care center, Glendale Adventist "is keeping up with the times and is taking the necessary step in an age when medical care is a consumer's market," said Jim Roberts, executive director of the National Assn. of Freestanding Emergency Centers.
"Health care costs are out of sight if you don't pay attention to what you're doing," said Roberts, whose Dallas-based association promotes the growth of urgent care clinics. "People are now shopping around for good, cheap health care, and you don't have to look hard to find it. Hospitals are beginning to catch on to that."
Competition for the health care dollar has intensified in recent years as three urgent care clinics in Glendale have opened to lure business from hospitals. Doctors at the clinics have long expected Glendale Adventist to enter the market.
The competition was too intense for one clinic, Glendale Urgency Medical Clinic, which went out of business last year. Two other clinics under the same ownership in Silver Lake and Echo Park are doing a "solid business," said spokeswoman Judy Seymour. Another clinic that primarily treated Hispanics has closed.
"It's a growing market, and it's very competitive," said Dr. Larry Vigilia, owner of the 13-month-old Colorado Family Health Center in Glendale. "Most hospitals are trying to compete and I've been anticipating that Adventist would join in."
Although doctors at urgent care centers in the area acknowledge that Glendale Adventist's entry into the market may cut slightly into their business, none expects to be looking elsewhere for work.
Industry experts said that, although the majority of private urgent care clinics go out of business during the first year of operation, the ones that survive the crucial 12 months manage to stay open.
"We feel it's a matter of how good your service is," said Dr. Richard Foullon, owner of Verdugo Hills Urgent Medical Care, which opened in February. "If you treat your patients well, they'll keep coming back to you rather than going to a hospital. To many people, big hospitals are sort of intimidating, and we offer an alternative to that.
Urgent heath care clinics began opening up about four years ago as a reaction to the escalating costs of medical care, especially emergency treatment.
Most of the clinics are open 12 hours a day, including weekends, and at least one licensed physician is on duty at all times. Although none boasts the resources of a hospital, most have basic medical equipment, such as X-ray and electrocardiogram machines, and a laboratory.