MedStar Health said Tuesday that it has acquired Righttime Medical Care, more than doubling its network of urgent care centers in Maryland at a time when visits are surging because of the coronavirus pandemic.
The acquisition more than doubles the number of MedStar urgent care centers to 33 from 14. Terms of the deal were not disclosed.
MedStar officials said the nonprofit hospital system and the urgent care company each saw benefits to patients. Righttime patients get more immediate access to specialists and hospital services, and MedStar patients get timely care potentially closer to home.
And officials said the urgent care centers have seen a lot more patients this year — the sites together are on pace to double their usual half-million annual visits.
“We had 1,100 patients in our 14 sites on Monday, and on a typical day a year ago it would have been 500 to 600,” said Bob Gilbert, president of MedStar Ambulatory Services. “About 60% have COVID-related symptoms.”
The centers have been offering testing and treatment for COVID-19, as well as the normal array of services such as care for the flu and other infections and illnesses, as well as sprained ankles and injuries.
Some of those patients would have gone to an emergency room, but access was restricted for a time for accidents and illnesses that were not extremely serious emergencies as hospitals filled with coronavirus patients. Hospital officials have said that others just avoided emergency facilities because of the virus.
Gilbert said the sites, which offer routine vaccinations, also will be gearing up to offer COVID-19 vaccines when they become available to the public next year.
MedStar plans to retain about 300 medical and support workers at Righttime, in addition to the 250 or so employed at MedStar sites. MedStar also has moved some other workers and hired temporary workers to handle the load of patients seeking coronavirus and other services at the urgent care centers.
The move comes as urgent care companies have proliferated in neighborhood shopping centers, drugstores and elsewhere. And many health systems have expanded into the market, seeing them as a way to keep people out of their crowded emergency rooms.
Such centers offer a lower-cost alternative in many cases to those emergency rooms, and they have been hugely profitable for operators.
There are more than 9,600 such centers across the country, according to the Urgent Care Association. The industry is expected to reach almost $26 billion in revenue by 2023, up from $19 billion in 2017, according to the research firm MarketsandMarkets.
Many of the operators are large, for-profit companies with dozens or hundreds of centers. The centers tend to see patients who are young, fairly healthy and often without a primary care doctor.
MedStar, based in Columbia, already is one of the largest health systems in Maryland with 10 hospitals across the state and in Washington, D.C. It has invested heavily in urgent care centers, opening its first site in 2012. Many are in the Baltimore and Washington regions. The Righttime centers will give the system more sites in counties between.
“This is a wonderful opportunity for both our patients and our employees to be a part of the MedStar Health network, which has an exceptional reputation in our community,” said Dr. Robert G. Graw Jr., founder and CEO of Righttime Medical Care. “We look forward to joining the experienced MedStar Health team and building on our mission to expand and simplify access to trusted medical care for people of all ages in our region.”
Righttime was founded in Annapolis in 1989 as an overnight pediatric urgent care practice and grew to include 19 locations from Frederick to St. Mary’s counties.
The acquisition also includes HeadFirst clinics for sports injury and concussion care, expanding an area in which MedStar already had a substantial interest. The system offers care to several professional, college and high school sports teams. With some of those teams sidelined during the pandemic, Gilbert said, some of that medical staff is helping handle the crush of urgent care patients.
Gilbert said all patients of MedStar’s hospitals, urgent care centers and other medical offices will use the same electronic medical record system, which he said will make referrals and services more seamless. Urgent care centers also can help patients find a primary care doctor in the system.
He said about 20% of urgent care patients are referred for specialty care. An additional 5% to 8% get referred to the emergency room. Many still often prefer to start that care in a neighborhood center.
“People want convenience and immediate care,” Gilbert said. “We can seamlessly offer that care.”