Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Is urgent care finished in Hailey?

Clinic no longer sees walk-in patients

Express Staff Writer

Among the changes that have accompanied St. Luke's takeover of the former Hailey Medical Clinic, building a new facility is easily the most anticipated. This is especially true for the staff at Wood River Family Medicine, as the clinic is now known.

The St. Luke's hospital group in spring 2008 plans to break ground on a new building for the clinic near Friedman Memorial Airport in Hailey.

But other changes have rattled some people's nerves. The medical clinic was once attached to the Hailey Hospital, and was equipped to handle emergency walk-ins. When the hospital closed several years ago, the clinic co-opted some of the hospital rooms, as well as its urgent care practice. Close to the schools and right in town, it was heavily trafficked with walk-ins. But times have changed out of necessity, said Dr. Carl Barbee.

"Are we no longer a walk-in clinic? Technically, yes, practically, no," he said. "We don't have urgent care. We used to have one doctor scheduled with no appointments who took the walk-ins, but it was problematic. The doctor could be sitting around for an hour with nothing to do and then get piled up. We modified the system so that each doctor has a certain amount of appointments each day."

A small number of patients have complained to the Mountain Express that the new system limits access to doctors. But Barbee said accommodations are being made.

"We save time for 'near day' appointments for people we need to see again in a day or two. For instance, I have someone with pneumonia who I'm treating as an outpatient. We reserve those. Each of us has five or six of those. Then we have four or five appointments set aside for same-day stuff. People call in for those. It works better for our schedules."

However, Barbee said that even in the best of times the six doctors and two nurse practitioners are over-booked. Even with the appointment times set aside for same-day care, sometimes people come in and need to be sent to the emergency room at St. Luke's Wood River Medical Center anyway.

"That happens not infrequently," Barbee said. "If they're clutching their chest or (coughing up) blood all over, we route those up to the ER."

Besides Barbee, the doctors affiliated with Wood River Family Medicine are Dr. Rich Paris, Dr. Kathy Woods, Dr. Frank Batcha, Dr. Leigh Morse and Dr. Tracey Busby, who works out of the Sun Valley Family Medicine office in Ketchum. There are also three nurse practitioners: Emily Karassik and Debbie Garratt in Hailey and Julie Watson in Ketchum. Each of the physicians rotates through duty at St. Luke's Wood River Medical Center, south of Ketchum.

"We still see people on the same day, but it's not the same system," Barbee said. "We try to encourage people to call for those same day appointments. I've never had anyone say they were sent away. Most of the time they'll be worked in. They might have to wait around. We're trying to run it as an appointment-based business."

When two new doctors join Wood River Family Medicine in 2008 it should help ease the current situation, Barbee said.

"It was so difficult to manage the urgent care the way it was," he said. "No one was happy with it. A lot of patients weren't happy. It was such chaos trying to figure out what to do when there was no one there and then too many. For me, it's always packed. That's why we've been feverishly trying to recruit people. The new building will help. More than anything, we'll have more bodies, so it will be easier to get more people in. There is a mechanism for being seen."

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