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TCHC adds walk-in service, extends clinic hours

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The only access to any sort of after-hours medical treatment in Wadena has been at the Tri-County Health Care emergency room.

That changed Tuesday, when TCHC introduced ReadyCare, which offers extended hours and walk-in service at the Wadena clinic. ReadyCare is accessible via the main clinic entrance and is housed in the space formerly known as "urgent care." It's open from 8:30 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Thursday, Friday from 8:30 to 4:30 p.m. and Saturday from 8 a.m. to noon. Patients can also schedule same-day appointments.

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"Many things are of a minor nature but urgent," said Judy White, TCHC clinic administrator. "We know that our patients have been asking for the extended time and we're so excited to be offering this new service."

Emergency room visits are expensive and often involve long waits for those with low-priority medical issues, said Joel Beiswenger, TCHC president and CEO. ReadyCare will cost the same as ordinary clinic visits.

"Now the emergency room can really focus on truly high intensity patients," Beiswenger said. "It's allowing us to spend the right amount of resources to care for people in the right setting."

ReadyCare shouldn't be used for annual exams, well-child exams, second opinions, chronic pain, medication refills or other issues more appropriately addressed through primary care providers or specialists, White said.

"Those are things that are not going to be taken care of at ReadyCare," she said. "We don't want to interfere with (patients') relationship with their primary providers."

Patients in emergency situations should still call 911.

The new service will not divert resources from the ER, Beiswenger said.

"The emergency department is an important service for this community," he said. "It will not be at all be compromised by this change."

To staff ReadyCare, TCHC hired two new physician assistants, Greg Wiegand and Josephine McIntosh. They'll be joined by physician assistants Renee Miller and Tom Weston, who are both current employees.

The new services have been in the works for 18 months, Beiswenger said, but couldn't be launched until TCHC hired additional staff.

"Finding experienced providers is a challenge for all rural health (organizations), he said. "That's the cornerstone."

TCHC closest competitor, Lakewood Health System in Staples, offers evening appointments from 5 to 8 p.m. and Saturday walk-in availability from 8 a.m. to noon. Perham Health is open from 9 a.m. to noon Saturdays, but does not provide walk-in service or have extended hours during the week.

ReadyCare is more about being responsive to Wadena's health-care needs than it is about keeping up with the competition, Beiswenger said.

White noted the 435 TCHC employees don't just work in the community; they're a part of it.

"Patients are our family, friends and our neighbors," she said. "We're never very far from the reality of that."

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