Norwich - In past years when one of the visiting cousins took a bad tumble during the backyard football game on Thanksgiving Day, the choices for medical care pretty much narrowed down to one: the local hospital emergency room.
This year, though, there's a second alternative. Urgent Care of Connecticut, a Brookfield-based, for-profit chain, opened its seventh location in the state here on Oct. 31, its first in eastern Connecticut. The walk-in center is open seven days a week, including major holidays.
"We're usually very busy on holidays," said Marcey Tweedie, director of grassroots marketing for the company, as she led a tour of the new offices at 607 West Main St., a 3,000-square-foot space that formerly houses a Papa Gino's Pizzeria. "We take care of 98 percent of what the ER does, anything that's non-life-threatening."
That includes any "non-acute need," she said, from lacerations, wound infections, Lyme disease tests and treatment to sexually transmitted diseases, flu shots, urinary tract infections and walk-in physicals.
Urgent Care of Connecticut was founded in 2008 by three doctors who met while working together in the emergency department at Waterbury Hospital. Dr. Bernd Woerner, Dr. R. Robert Rohatsch and Dr. Jeannie Kenkare formed a partnership, Zucyla Enterprises, as the parent corporation of Urgent Care of Connecticut, and opened their first center in Southbury a short time later. The three saw a need for a service that could treat many of the same conditions that sent people to emergency rooms, but at a lower cost, Tweedie said.
"It's when you want something taken care of, but you don't want to be sitting in an emergency room," she said. "We're trying to offload from the ERs, and we're less costly."
Her company, she said, is undergoing "rapid expansion," with plans to open more locations in New London County in the near future. In addition to the Norwich and Southbury centers, other Urgent Care of Connecticut offices are located in Glastonbury, Newtown, Brookfield, Norwalk and Ridgefield.
"Next year we'd like to have 20 locations in Connecticut, and we also see potential to expand into Rhode Island, Massachusetts and New York," Tweedie said.
As more people obtain health insurance through the Affordable Care Act, she said, the company anticipates a growing need for medical care providers. Urgent Care, she said, can help fill the need for basic care, particularly as the shortage of primary care doctors becomes more pronounced with an influx of newly insured patients. The company employs 15 primary care doctors who rotate among the seven locations. After initial treatment at the center, patients are referred to local specialists or their own primary care doctors for follow-up care, Tweedie said.
"We're open on days when the primary care offices are closed," she said. "We're not trying to steal patients. We're trying to work with them."
Nationwide, there are about 9,000 urgent care centers, with the first ones opening 30 years ago, according to the Urgent Care Association of America. The 1990s saw a rapid expansion in the number of urgent care centers, which now log 160 million patient visits annually, according to the association.
Urgent Care of Connecticut is one of only 36 of these centers accredited through the Joint Commission, the hospital accreditation organization, through its ambulatory care program. It accepts all major private health insurance plans as well as Medicare, but does not take patients covered by HUSKY or Medicaid.
The Norwich center, with six exam rooms, an X-ray room and trauma room where patients can be put on an IV or oxygen, shares a busy commercial road next door to Little Caesars Pizza and Game X Change and across from the Shop Rite plaza. Over one recent weekend, the center saw 11 patients, Tweedie said, but she hopes that as the word gets out about its services numbers will approach those of its Southbury center, which sees an average of 50 patients a day. No appointments are needed, and patients can call ahead to get an estimate of how much a visit with a doctor will cost, Tweedie said.
"We feel there's a strong need in this area, and that the population will support it," she said.