The BHS Urgent Care Center opens on Wednesday on East Street.
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — In an effort to reduce wait times and cut patient co-pays, Berkshire Health Systems has opened an urgent care facility on East Street.
The center features four examination rooms, radiology suite, in-house pharmacy, laboratory, and a waiting/registration area to serve patients suffering from minor afflictions.
The goal is to serve patients with sprains, fractures, coughs, colds, and the like with an office visit rather than bogging down the emergency room.
"The volume [of patients in the ER] has been going up. People are living longer and the cases are getting more complex," said Dr. Ron Hayden, the chairman of the emergency department.
"We're getting busier and busier and as a result people are waiting longer and longer."
The facility is staffed with an emergency room doctor, a nurse, and a radiologist and will serve the gap between when patients can't see their primary-care doctors but their ailments don't require emergency room service. Hayden says the urgent care facility will reduce wait times in the emergency room by shifting some of the patents there. Currently many go to the emergency room minor issues outside of doctors' office hours.
"We're doing this to respond to the needs of the community," Hayden said during an open house on Tuesday, the day before the center opens.
The office will also reduce co-pays for patients because they will be billed as a doctor's office visit instead of an emergency room visit. The doctors at the urgent care center will have full access to medical records and it narrows the focus on emergency room staff to those with life-threatening conditions.
"We are not a replacement for the emergency room," Hayden said, adding that the facility isn't even a replacement for primary-care doctors but rather is filling a gap of hours and access to primary care.
The center will operate from 10 a.m. until 8 p.m. seven days a week, including holidays. Hayden said the hospital will add additional resources, including doctors or expansion of the center, if the patient volume demands it.
The doctors staffed there have worked in the emergency room and can provide medications and prescriptions - though narcotics will not be held on site.
Hayden said the hospital has been looking to open such a facility for almost a year. The goal was to find a high-traffic area with plenty of parking and found it in the St. Luke's Square at the intersection of Fourth, East, and Elm streets. The location was actually the second the hospital looked at after being unsuccessful in finding a spot in Allendale.
"We have the ability to expand," Hayden said, specifically in that the walls could easily be knocked out and open into another office space.
The move is also a way to get ahead of changing health-care reimbursement systems, Hayden said, and the competition. Private companies have been opening urgent-care centers across the United States and the decade-old Doctors Express Urgent Care chain has opened three centers in Massachusetts, including in Springfield. Hayden said it is better for patients to receive care from the Berkshire Health Systems network than an outside vendor.
"If we can do this as a break-even operation, why not do it?" Hayden said. "We're not really looking at this as a profit scheme."
The center is similar to the walk-in center Berkshire Health Systems opened at the Market 32 grocery in Berkshire Crossings. But the East Street center provides more services, such as in-house laboratory testing and X-rays.
The staff can diagnose and treat such things as bronchitis, pneumonia, fractures, sprains, dislocations, lacerations, wound repair and abscess drainage. Life-threatening issues should still be directed to the emergency room.
The center is open for walk-ins so no appointment is needed.
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