Mercy Medical Center opened a new clinic in Monticello this past week.
MercyCare Community Physicians, the group affiliated with the Cedar Rapids-based health system, replaced its Monticello clinic with a new building two miles from the former facility.
Mercy has operated a clinic in Monticello since 2003. The new 4,000-square-foot clinic is at 225 Welter Dr.
Officials held a virtual ribbon-cutting ceremony Friday over Facebook Live, another adjustment to everyday life as a result of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
Greg DeWolf, Mercy’s vice president of clinical operations, and Sue Schlarmann, MercyCare director of physician relations and clinic operations, said the pandemic has presented an opportunity for primary care expansion.
In particular, it has heightened patients’ awareness about the benefits of local and easily accessible primary care providers.
DeWolf and Schlarmann recently spoke with The Gazette about the new clinic, as well as their thoughts on expanding community-based health services in the midst of a pandemic.
Q: Could you share some details of the new clinic?
DeWolf: The clinic is open Monday through Friday, 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. It will have two full-time providers: physician Dr. Stephen Runde and physician assistant Barbara Cree. We have a lab and imaging services at that location, and we’ve also upgraded to digital radiology as a part of the new space.
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Q: With this new clinic opening, do officials have any plans to expand services?
Schlarmann: For a long time, the clinic has offered occupational health services, and we hope to continue to build on services with local businesses in the community. A lot of occupational health is working with work-related injuries on the job site, diagnostic screenings and drug screenings for employers, etc.
Q: The use of telemedicine has grown sharply in the midst of the pandemic. Has the clinic in Monticello also seen this trend? What does that mean for the new clinic space in the coming months?
DeWolf: Last March, when COVID-19 started, video visits were a really small (portion of total patient volume). Maybe less than 1 percent — it was minuscule. Monticello’s clinic, from March to the end of the past fiscal year, saw 98 (video visits). In the first quarter of this (fiscal year), the clinic did about 50 visits. So we’re doing twice the amount of visits, and we see this as a great opportunity.
Schlarmann: There’s also some of the outreach opportunity when it comes to specialty health care services, other specialty areas looking to do telemedicine. If someone comes in because of an illness, we could quickly facilitate a telemedicine visit if (a) specialist (isn’t) able to be on site.
Q: Has the clinic seen an impact on the number of patients coming to the clinic through the COVID-19 pandemic?
DeWolf: Monticello is pretty comparable this year to the prior year. I don’t think there was a significant impact.
Schlarmann: With e-visits and telemedicine appointments, we’ve been able to stay very consistent as far as patient volume.
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DeWolf: Back in March and April, video visits saw a significant spike in use for primary care clinics. That’s leveled off now, but I think people will continue to want to do video visits with their doctor.
Q: Has COVID-19 impacted officials’ expansion plans?
DeWolf: We’re working with clinics on (expansion). All of our clinics have expressed an interest in expansion, it’s just a matter of determining whether those will take place in-person or through a telemedicine visit. There’s interest in growing the service line, I don’t think the pandemic will stop that.
Schlarmann: If anything, we’re expanding outreach. As patients, they’re looking for greater access to health care in a safe and convenient way. By bringing specialists to communities, that’s an additional access point for that patient. They feel more comfortable going to their own clinic, rather than traveling elsewhere to a place like Cedar Rapids.
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