Madison Regional Health System announced via Facebook on Tuesday afternoon that urgent care services would be canceled until further notice.
"It's more of a suspension of services during this busy time of COVID," MRHS CEO Tammy Miller said in a phone interview.
She explained that urgent care services were offered as a convenience in response to a need identified during the last community survey conducted. However, since the COVID-19 pandemic hit the area, few people have taken advantage of it.
Through this service, MRHS has offered patients the opportunity to seek medical care for non-emergency situations with a walk-in clinic in the evening and on Saturday morning. Some of those who have taken advantage of it stop after work rather than scheduling an appointment during the day, or take their children in to have an earache checked after picking them up from day care, according to Miller.
"Prior to COVID, it was a much-requested service in Madison," she said. "We suspended it at the beginning of COVID to protect people in the building."
After the service resumed, fewer people took advantage of it. Normally, during cold and flu season, the traffic is higher with it dwindling during the summer months.
While fewer people have taken advantage of urgent care services, MRHS has been actively involved in responding to the COVID-19 pandemic in the Madison area. COVID testing is done there. Those who are suspected of having COVID are being seen through a slightly different clinic process.
In addition, MRHS is administering COVID vaccinations based on the doses provided each week. This is a labor-intensive project because the nurse administering the vaccine provides educational information to each patient, and a second nurse monitors patients for 15 minutes following the injection because on rare occasions individuals have had an allergic reaction.
"We're doing a lot of the vaccinations right now," Miller said.
With the additional demands on staffing posed by COVID-19, the decision was made to suspend urgent care services. However, the clinic is restructuring appointment times in order to accommodate patients at non-traditional times, according to Miller.
She did not have a detailed list of these times during the impromptu phone interview. However, she did provide the example of offering appointments over the noon hour.
The MRHS website indicates the clinic is open Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Appointments can be made beginning at 8 a.m. on weekdays by calling 256-6551.
Both Miller and the Facebook post note that emergency room services are still available for those with an urgent need to seek medical attention. Those services are available 24/7.
"ER is a more expensive level of care," Miller indicated, explaining that it might not be the most cost-effective way to seek medical attention for a cold.
She also recognized the impact this decision would have on the community.
"We understand suspending urgent care services right now is an inconvenience and we apologize," Miller said.