ELLSWORTH, Maine — A New Hampshire-based medical franchise is expanding into Hancock County with a $2 million walk-in clinic on Route 1 that aims to treat cases that would otherwise end up in more expensive emergency rooms.
Builders were working on the second floor of the two-story ConvenientMD Urgent Care facility in the Maine Coast Mall plaza on Friday. The facility will employ 25 people when it opens on July 1 and another 25 in three or four years. Based in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, ConvenientMD chose to put its sixth Maine clinic in Ellsworth after seeing that its Bangor clinic, which opened in 2018, draws patients from far beyond Penobscot County, CEO Max Puyanic said.
“When we opened in Bangor we saw that we were drawing patients from far north all the way up to the Canadian border,” Puyanic said.
Urgent-care centers have become popular in recent years because they’re an alternative to long waits in emergency rooms or at primary care practices for patients who don’t have life-threatening problems but seek immediate service, said John Morrow, managing director of Franklin Trust Ratings, a firm that analyzes health care industry data.
Urgent-care clinics can be the first stop for maladies ranging from sports injuries to flu cases. They also provide flu vaccines, drug testing and other forms of urinalysis and blood work, and X-rays and sonograms. Urgent-care clinics handle infusion care, or medication injections that are typically administered by nurses, too, Morrow said.
“Urgent care, or doc in a box, is a great alternative to going to a hospital emergency room because of the lack of cost,” Morrow said. “This is where they really speak to a community, which is generally short of primary care physicians, and if you have them, they are sometimes hard to see when you have, for instance, developed a flu over the last 24 hours.”
Exact cost-comparison data for Hancock County isn’t readily available, but an X-ray taken at a typical hospital, Puyanic said, can cost $400. ConvenientMD charges $50. ConvenientMD accepts most forms of medical insurance, plus MaineCare and Medicare, he said.
There were more than 9,379 urgent care facilities in the United States as of August 2019, 45 of them in Maine, according to the Urgent Care Association, an industry group based in Warrenville, Illinois. Their numbers have been growing by about 400 to 500 centers a year, and about 35 percent of the people they serve don’t have a primary care doctor, according to the association.
Among the 45 Maine centers are Maine Medical Center Urgent Care Plus in Portland, St. Mary’s Urgent Care in Auburn and Northern Light Walk-in Care in Bangor. Hancock County has Northern Light Walk-in Care in Ellsworth, which is affiliated with Ellsworth’s Northern Light Maine Coast Hospital; Primary Health in Ellsworth; and a walk-in women’s health clinic at Northern Light Blue Hill Hospital.
The ConvenientMD facility in Ellsworth isn’t likely to have a significant impact on Hancock County’s hospitals in Blue Hill, Bar Harbor and Ellsworth. Rather than take much business away, ConvenientMD “could be a great point of referral to the nearest hospital,” Morrow said.
ConvenientMD will triage true emergency-room cases to the Ellsworth hospital’s ER and send chronic or specialty-care cases to physicians, Puyanic said.
The biggest shortcoming with urgent-care facilities is continuity of care, Morrow said. The facilities need to communicate well with emergency rooms and physicians to prevent lapses that lead to medical errors.
Ellsworth’s ConvenientMD location will take cases from Hancock and Washington counties clear to the Canadian border, Puyanic said.
In addition to its Bangor clinic, the company has four facilities in southern Maine — in Brunswick, Portland, Westbrook and Saco — in addition to locations in New Hampshire and Massachusetts.