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What Is The Future Of Urgent Care?

OAKHURST – How important is it for mountain area residents to have emergency room services readily available? Is Oakhurst in danger of losing the only one in town, namely Urgent Care?

That was one of the issues discussed at District 5 Supervisor Tom Wheeler’s Town Hall meeting in November, where Dr. Joel Figatner addressed the crowd about the shortage of physicians and the cut back of hours at the local emergency room.

Dr. Figatner, who has been practicing in the mountain area for decades and has been affiliated with Urgent Care since the early 1990s, is concerned about the potential loss of emergency services in the community.

“I’m proud to say that Urgent Care has been here for any many years, and I think the level of care offered is extremely good considering the limited resources,” said Figatner. “I’m proud to work with the nurses and lab people and all our fine emergency service personnel, but I’m concerned now because support is dwindling.”

Dr. Joel Figatner - photo by Gina ClugstonFigatner said Community Medical Centers, the parent company of Oakhurst Intermediate Care Center, aka Urgent Care, has struggled with finding physicians to fill positions after they lost half their providers early this year.

“Dr. McBride barely survived an accident when he was struck by a drunk driver, Dr. Blodgett left to teach residents at a university, and Dr. O’Meara got an offer he couldn’t refuse at Kaiser,” said Figatner. “The hospital has tried to recruit replacements, but here it is November and we’re no closer to having more medical providers than we were in January. That’s a shame.”

In early September, Urgent Care cut back their hours of operation. Previously open every day from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., they began closing at 7 p.m., and are closed all day on Wednesdays.

It is not a rare occurrence for people to call for Sierra Ambulance from the parking lot at Urgent Care because they’ve rushed to the emergency room only to find it closed.

“It’s almost a self-fulfilling prophecy,” said Figatner. “If you’re not there continuously, then people start to not show up, heading down the mountain rather than take a chance. That, in the world of bean counters, is not a good thing. The hospital has reached a point where they’re not going to keep throwing good money after bad.

“The first 25 years we were like the post office – rain sleet, snow, it didn’t matter. There was not a shift that went uncovered in those 25 years. Since January we can’t make that claim anymore. There are days that we have no medical provider, and when you don’t have a medical provider, the facility closes. It’s not fair to the community or the rest of the providers because we all try to pitch in and handle the load.”

Figatner cautions that unless the community is vocal in registering their support for the continuation of emergency services, especially Urgent Care, to their local elected officials and hospital administrators, the mountain area may lose a vital contribution to the quality of life.

He urged the local Chambers of Commerce to get involved in this issue, along with real estate sales groups.

“When someone is deciding whether or not to relocate to this area, one of the things they will consider is the quality and availability of medical care,” said Figatner, pointing out that this will have a direct impact on both businesses and home values.

He suggested that people with knowledge of grant writing for rural communities might be able to help, or there may be those who know how to go about getting medical providers to come on board at Urgent Care. He also said that residents who are concerned that they might lose this valuable and life-saving resource should make their voices heard by contacting their elected representatives and Community Medical Centers.

Dr. Figatner told the crowd he doesn’t have all the answers, but wants residents to be aware of this very real possibility, and hopefully those with the ability to help will take action in whatever way they can.

District 5 Supervisor Tom Wheeler has created a page on his section of the county website where people can print out a letter to Community Medical Centers to voice their concerns, or use it as a template to compose their own. Click here to view Tom’s webpage, print out the letter and get contact information.

Dr. Figatner isn’t feeling too optimistic about the future of Urgent Care at this point, and asks that everyone step up and do what they can to let the decision makers know how important this is to area residents.

“All I know is that if the word doesn’t go out, our chances of keeping the service alive diminish each day. I told the hospital trustee I talked to that I want to feel like I’m being put in a position to succeed, and with the cutbacks, I honestly feel that I can’t say that anymore. Sometimes It takes a crisis to mobilize people, and right now, people need to make some noise.”

Click here to read the response from Community Medical Centers about the future of Urgent Care and the challenges involved.

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