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Senior Editor Peter Wehrwein speaks with Lou Ellen Horwitz, CEO of th eUrgent Care Association, about how urgent care centers struggled to personal protective equipment and access to testing.
When Lou Ellen Horwitz saw tents going up in parking lots for COVID-19 testing centers, she had felt like raising her hand and saying, ‘Hey what about us?!’
“I am thinking, ‘We are right here. We don’t require an appointment. We have been walk-in since the day we were born. How did this get missed? So I think that is the tragedy as we see it,” Horwitz, CEO of the Urgent Care Association, said in a videointerview with Managed Healthcare Executive®
Horwitz said urgent care center had difficulty getting personal protective equipment (PPE) during the early part of the pandemic and that it is difficult now for urgent care centers, many of which are individually owned, to compete for the limited supply of rapid-test kits.
“Because there is a limit supply of tests and lot of people who want them, there is price fluctuation going on,” she said. “So if you’ve got a small center who is ready and it has an order in for $90,000 — that is not going to happen.”
Horwitz, whose association includes member that collectively own and operate 4,500 urgent care centers, say most of the urgent care centers are sending COVID-19 samples out to labs, which means a delay in getting a result: “We all know there is a timing issue there.”
Horwitz said during the early weeks of the pandemic when stay-at-home orders were in place and there was no testing, the number of patients seen at urgent care centers plummeted. “It was ghost town in urgent care for about two or three weeks.”
But then, she says, “patients started coming and coming and coming.” Because of the lack of PPE and testing, some centers had to turn people away, she said. “It was a rocky patch there as we were re-ramping up.”
Now the centers are seeing patients with twisted ankles, lacerations and normal run of problems seen at urgent care centers along added layer of patients with issues related to COVID-19.
“Everyone that I know, almost, is not overwhelmed but they are at peak — they are extremely busy.”
Horwitz said urgent care centers have had difficulty getting recognized as being part of the national response to COVID-19. “The space that we occupy in the continuum of health[care] is really, really important but kind of in the middle if you look at 100 years of traditional medicine.”
She said it was difficult “penetrating the national scene of health care,” and her members have tended to focus on issues at the state and local level.
“We have not spent a lot of time and energy trying to be heard on the national stage. That wasn’t what our members really needed. We aren’t spending hundreds of thousands of dollars every single year on a lobbyist.”
But Horwitz says urgent care’s place in the pecking order is changing because of patient demand.
“We already had such good relations with patients in the community. They are coming. And so the patients figured it out. So we are finally starting to get that clicking at the national level of, ‘we need to not put them on the third tier of the list for supplies’ because that is where the patients are going.”