One Richmond-based chain of urgent care centers has reduced its hours because of what it calls an “unsustainable increase in patient visits.”
Patient First, a regional chain that provides walk-in medical care and primary care at nine locations in the Richmond area, said it has temporarily reduced its hours to 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. every day from previous hours of 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily.
The health care provider also said it has reduced its telehealth hours, during which patients can get remote health care, to 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily from previous hours of 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.
“We are making this temporary change because our medical centers have recently experienced an unsustainable increase in patient visits,” the company said.
“With an increase in illness in the community — and as other medical practices have begun to require appointments, or in other ways limit the patients they will see, and as emergency rooms and primary care physicians divert patients to us — we have seen an unanticipated and overwhelming number of patients.
“This surge has resulted in long waits at our centers, often for patients with acute illness or injury,” the company said. “It has also imposed an increasing strain on our providers and staff at a time when they are already working very hard to care for the community.”
Although the change is described as temporary, Patient First said it does not know when it will return to normal hours.
The company could not say how much of the surge in patient visits is a result of COVID-19 infections.
“Our increase in patient visits is not from one particular illness or set of symptoms,” said Taylor Robertson, Patient First’s director of community relations.
Robertson said a number of patients currently are coming in with upper respiratory symptoms, which is not uncommon.
“These cases typically represent a large percentage of our visits,” Robertson said. “Some of these patients test positive for COVID-19, but most do not. We are also seeing an increase in visits for various routine injuries and illnesses.”
The company also could not say how many of the patients are coming to Patient First after being diverted from hospitals or other health care providers.
“Any answer we provide would be speculative,” Robertson said.
While Patient First couldn’t point to a diversion of patients, Dr. Todd Parker, an emergency physician and president-elect of the Virginia College of Emergency Physicians, said hospital emergency departments around the state are seeing a surge in patients. Parker said Friday that he could not speak directly to the impact on urgent care centers, but “our emergency departments are seeing a huge uptick in volume, and we have for months.”
“We are seeing a lot of patients that are coming to us [emergency departments] because they tried to get into an urgent care but could not,” Parker said. “It is not just urgent care but primary care offices that are seeing a huge surge in patients.”
Patients are going to emergency rooms for a variety of health issues, but “the single biggest identifiable block is COVID patients, especially unvaccinated COVID patients,” he said. “Many of them are unable to get appointments with primary care physicians and urgent care clinics.”
Phone messages left for two other urgent care clinics in the Richmond area — BetterMed and MedExpress — were not returned this week.
The national drugstore chain CVS, which operates its own urgent care center, Minute Clinic, said this week that it is planning to hire 25,000 people, including 840 in Virginia.
Minute Clinic staff members are among the positions the company said it plans to fill — which include full-time, part-time and temporary licensed pharmacists, pharmacy technicians, nurses and retail employees at CVS stores — as it looks to respond to increased demand for both flu and COVID-19 vaccinations and tests as the winter months approach.