Prime Care gets new hours

A man walks into the Prime Care Central Clinic, 284 W. 32nd St., Thursday morning.

Yuma's lone 24-hour urgent care clinic has scaled back its schedule.

PrimeCare Urgent Care has three locations, and the central clinic at 284 W. 32nd St., in the Big Curve shopping center, had been open 24 hours a day, seven days a week since 2002, until the switch came Sept. 1.

"Our reality was that we could not financially sustain the 24-hour model, given the low number of patients who actually used the facility during the midnight to 6 a.m. hours,” Shawn Strandberg, administrator of community support programs for Yuma Regional Medical Center, said. The clinic is still open seven days a week. PrimeCare is jointly owned by YRMC and two physicians groups in Yuma.

The move leaves YRMC's emergency department the only option for people needing care between 11 p.m. and 6 a.m.

Machele Headington, vice president of marketing and communication at the hospital, said the PrimeCare clinic at averaged four to seven patients from midnight to 6 a.m., and sometimes didn't have any. Answering the question posed by the scaling back, she said, "Can we handle four more patients per night in our emergency department? I think so."

Overcrowding has been a concern at YRMC's emergency department in the past, and a new emergency department is the last major piece of YRMC's ongoing expansion, which will have the capacity to handle more than 100,000 patients a year and is slated to open in 2016.

Headington said last year was the emergency department's busiest with just under 70,000 patients. A previous stage of the hospital's growth, which added 36 inpatient beds that emergency parents can be transferred to when needed, has made a real difference in the ER overcrowding, she said.

Strandberg said YRMC will keep an eye on the patient load at PrimeCare under the new schedule, and will make adjustments as needed. "If we have an abnormally high flu season, we may need to extend our hours," he said.

The PrimeCare clinics were started in 1996 by former medical director Dr. John Carson, who stepped down from the role last month. Dr. John Ridgway has been acting as interim medical director, while Carson continues to work full-time at YRMC's emergency department.

At the time, he listed the central clinic's nearly 13 years of round-the-clock operation as one of his proudest accomplishments. He opened the other PrimeCare locations in the Foothills and on Yuma's west side in 2005. At one point all three were open 24 hours.

Strandberg said Carson's decision to leave the medical director role was to free up more time between his emergency room job and family duties, with grandchildren being added to the mix, and lauded him for leading the way into the urgent care field. "If you look across the mountains to San Diego, you don't have the same amount of options out there for after-hours care," he said.

Strandberg said the PrimeCare centers share a staff of 45 that is shifted among the three locations as demand warrants, and seasonal providers are just starting to come on board to handle the influx of winter visitors. Cutting back operating hours at the central location will allow that staff to be used more effectively.

The busiest time at PrimeCare tends to be around 6 p.m., right after most doctors' offices have closed, Headington said.

Headington said the YRMC emergency department has an urgent care as well as emergency care sections, and last winter had its busiest season ever, as well as accomplished its best turnaround time.

She said urgent care clinics including PrimeCare are equipped to handle issues such as minor sprains and low-grade fevers. The hospital's CareLine, (928) 336-2273 (CARE), is staffed 24 hours with nurses available to give feedback on whether a medical situation warrants going to the ER versus urgent care.

Seventy to 90 percent of the time, patients are counseled to go to their primary care physician or urgent care, but the nurses will call 911 if necessary, Headington said.

Hours are not changing at the other two PrimeCare locations. The Foothills location recently expanded into weekend hours, and the Valley location's pediatric after-hours urgent care has provided a valuable service over the last year and a half that many larger cities don't have, Strandberg said.

• Foothills location, 11142 S. Scottsdale Drive – 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., Monday through Sunday

• Valley location, 2377 S. 22nd Drive – regular hours 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Friday; PrimeCare Kids  5 to 11 p.m.Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.

There are a handful of other urgent care clinics throughout the Yuma area. Eddie Ortiz, an operations manager at Northside Medical Clinic at 1394 W. 16th St., said that office is open 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Friday, and 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturdays. After-hours cases have been referred to the PrimeCare central location or YRMC's emergency room.

Oritz said since learning about PrimeCare Central's changes at the beginning of the week, Northside managers have been talking about plans to possibly extend their hours with increased urgency. An average of 60 to 80 patients are treated daily with a staff of 12 full- and part-time employees, he said.

"We could stay open later into the evening, or open 24 hours. We don't know yet," he said.

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