ABQ gets state’s first 24-hour urgent care/emergency care center

greg sorber/journal
Dr. Darren Shafer, executive medical director, Presbyterian Medical Group, shows a CT scan machine in the Xray department of the new PRESNow 24/7 Urgent an Emergency Care facility at 6400 Paseo Del Norte Blvd. NE which will open Wednesday.
The new PresNow 24/7 Urgent Care and Emergency Care center at 6400 Paseo del Norte Blvd. NE. The new facility will open on Wednesday. (Greg Sorber/Albuquerque Journal)

Copyright © 2019 Albuquerque Journal

Faced with high costs and long wait times for patients, Presbyterian Healthcare Services is about to open the doors to a hybrid care facility that’s designed to help with both issues.

“People are going to have access to urgent care 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, which is unique for this city,” said Darren Shafer, executive medical director for Presbyterian.

The new 12,500-square-foot facility, located at 6400 Paseo del Norte Blvd. NE, is scheduled to open Wednesday.

Shafer said the PresNow 24/7 Urgent Care and Emergency Care center is the first center in New Mexico to offer both emergency and urgent care services under one roof. That allows Presbyterian to offer many medical services at all hours of the day, without saddling patients with the higher costs or long wait times of an emergency room.

Shafer said the discussion about how to lower both costs and wait times began about three years ago. Presbyterian partnered with Texas-based Intuitive Health to determine a path to alleviate these problems without compromising its level of care, and ultimately decided on a series of hybrid centers that offer elements of both emergency rooms as well as urgent care. Presbyterian plans to open three more identical facilities in the metro area by the end of 2020.

“We have a unique model that’s going to lower the cost of care for all patients in the community,” Shafer said.

Unlike other urgent care centers, PresNow will be open 24 ours a day, giving the public more opportunities to use it. It will also provide services, such as CAT scans, not found at other urgent care centers.

“At 2 in the morning, if you’re feeling horrible and you need to know whether you’re going to work the next day, you can come to us,” Shafer said.

In addition, Shafer said between 20% and 30% of patients admitted to emergency rooms do not actually need emergency medical care, but end up going there because no urgent care facilities are open at the time, or there are none within easy access. Consequently, patients end up getting charged for an emergency room visit when an urgent or primary care facility would have sufficed.

This usually means paying significantly more than they might have otherwise. Shafer used the example of a urinary tract infection, which he said would cost $550 to diagnose at an emergency room, $140 to diagnose at an urgent care clinic and $40 to diagnose at a primary care facility.

While the approach is unique in New Mexico, it has been used successfully in other parts of the West. Centura Health, a Colorado-based health care network, built its first emergency and urgent care center about three and a half years ago. Andrew Gaasch, vice president and chief ambulatory officer for Centura, said the network now operates 10 across Colorado, with another one under development. Gaasch said the model has allowed Centura to provide emergency-level care to its patients, even though 70% of them are charged only for urgent care.

“It’s obviously a significant savings there,” he said.

At PresNow, patients are admitted as urgent-care recipients, and receive an evaluation to determine whether their ailment will require emergency room equipment, such as a CAT scan. If a doctor determines that a patient needs emergency treatment, Shafer said patients may sign a waiver acknowledging that they’re receiving emergency care. If not, however, it is processed like an urgent care visit and the patient is billed accordingly, saving patients and insurers money in the process.

The new facility, which has 14 standard rooms along with two larger rooms for more critical patients, cost $4 million to construct, said Presbyterian communications director Melanie Mozes.

Shafer, while leading a tour of the new center Monday, added that the medical provider prioritized natural light and warm colors when constructing the building.

“We want (patients) to feel like they’re in a warm and nurturing environment,” he said.

The Paseo del Norte location will open to the public at 7 a.m. on Wednesday. Shafer said a second location, at Coors Boulevard and Western Trail NW, is slated to open in October, with additional centers in the South Valley and Uptown expected to open by the end of 2020.

“It’s part of Presbyterian’s approach to changing the way health care is delivered in Albuquerque and New Mexico,” Shafer said.

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