UMC plans growth amid urgent care competition

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University Medical Center of Southern Nevada has nine Quick Care locations around the Las Vegas Valley, including this office near West Craig Road and North Rancho Drive seen here on Dec. 10, 2019 (Photo: Pashtana Usufzy).

University Medical Center of Southern Nevada has its sights set on expansion.

The public hospital that required millions of dollars in loans to make payroll and cut about 400 positions roughly five years ago has been profitable four years in a row, said CEO Mason VanHouweling. Now, as Clark County experiences some of the fastest population growth in the nation, the hospital aims to strategically plan its expansion of Quick Care and Primary Care clinics across the Valley to meet demand.

“We’ve had really high demand in our Quick Cares, in our Primary Cares. We’re seeing year over year 10 percent growth in some of the clinics, which is remarkable,” VanHouweling said.

The government-run hospital is in the process of finalizing and opening three locations — one in the North Las Vegas/Aliante area, one in the southeast closer to Henderson and a relocation of its Nellis offices to a new facility — by early summer.

Officials in Mesquite have also approached the hospital about possibly filling a care gap there, and UMC is exploring potential sites in the far southwest Valley as well, VanHouweling said.

The goal is to open about two clinics per year as the community grows, with the determination of whether there will be a Quick Care, Primary Care or both based on the location.

“We do a lot of analysis before we engage in a location,” VanHouweling said. “There is demand, and it’s being driven in the market.”

UMC currently offers nine Quick Care locations around Southern Nevada and seven Primary Care facilities. On average, the Quick Care locations treat 100 to 120 patients each day while the Primary Care offices treat closer to 30.

VanHouweling explained that the hospital has been conservative in recent years with its growth, taking into account the need present, population growth and other factors.

Clark County Commissioner and UMC Board of Trustees Chair Lawrence Weekly  praised the hospital for making the most of its resources and rising above old criticisms about quality of care.

“UMC has really come a long way,” he said.

In the past five years or so, improved reimbursement rates from insurance companies, investment in technology and the Medicaid expansion that occurred as a result of the Affordable Care Act have all helped to balance UMC’s finances.

Commissioner Marilyn Kirkpatrick said she believes the hospital has made positive financial strides post-recession and that its effort to expand into an area she represents in North Las Vegas is welcome.

“In terms of growth, there’s definitely a need for options,” she said.

Weekly agreed that the need exists, saying the expansion of the hospital’s clinics is ultimately about giving locals more and better choices while keeping lock-step with the Valley’s growth.

He rejected the idea that UMC could grow too big with the current model, arguing that if the hospital overreaches to its detriment, it could pull back its market presence.

“They’re doing their homework, they’re looking at neighborhoods, they’re looking at the data,” he said.

Throughout Southern Nevada, UMC’s Quick Care offices are just one of the options in a booming urgent care and walk-in retail clinic market.

CVS lists nine MinuteClinic retail clinic locations in the Valley on its website, and Sunrise Health System has 17 Southern Nevada-based CareNow Urgent Care facilities.

Sunrise Health System, part of national corporation HCA Healthcare, recently expanded hours to turn its Tropicana and Jones clinic into a 24/7 operation, according to a statement attributed to Terin Stamps, director of operations for CareNow Urgent Care. The system will keep looking for expansion opportunities “as the community has needs for urgent care services,” it said.

UMC has likewise expanded hours over the past six to eight months at multiple locations and is now working to get a handful of Primary Care clinics open on Saturday.

The increase in demand and presence specifically of urgent care clinics across the country appears to be filling a genuine need for convenient clinics that offer low-intensity, quick appointments at hours outside of the typical workday, said UCLA School of Public Health professor of health policy and management Gerald Kominski.

Sunrise Health System explained similarly that convenience is key for their patients.

“Across all of the communities we serve, we know patients want convenience and to experience healthcare, in non-emergent settings, in ways similar to how they access other services,” the statement said.

A potential financial benefit for larger health systems operating urgent care offices is that such low-intensity facilities also ensure more seriously ill or injured patients are forwarded to higher-level care. In the case of competing health care organizations, getting a patient into a branded urgent care may help funnel them into a specific health system, Kominski said.

“They’re doing what is the equivalent of community outreach,” Kominski said of the competing urgent care centers. “Their overall goal is to create a sense of customer loyalty to their brand, their facility and to get referrals into the system.”

That’s a strategy being used all over the country, he added.

But VanHouweling said UMC isn’t focusing so much on being a competitor as it is on being an alternative. It’s wary of market oversaturation and is trying to keep in mind the hospital’s responsibility to underserved populations as it attempts to remain financially viable.

“It’s always a balance and we’re looking at how to create access,” he said.

Pashtana Usufzy
Pashtana Usufzy is a freelance general features and health reporter based in Las Vegas. She previously worked as a health care reporter at the Las Vegas Review-Journal and prior to that as a local news reporter at the Las Vegas Sun.