Editor's note: This article has been edited to correct the spelling of Jeoff Lanfear's last name and to clarify that Urgent Care of Soldotna does not have physicians on staff.
From the sidewalk outside, the bright colorful letters in the windows of Urgent Care of Soldotna grab the attention with a welcoming message: “Walk in.”
The clinic, which opened its doors this fall, provides urgent care services for any walk-in patient. It’s similar to an emergency room, but without the high level of trauma service and without the potentially hours-long wait.
The draw of urgent care clinics is the immediacy — all patients are seen as walk-ins for non-life threatening acute conditions, like an infection or broken wrist. Stationed on the Sterling Highway just north of the bridge over the Kenai River, co-owners Shane Udelhoven and Jeoff Lanfear said they planned the location of the clinic to be visible to travelers headed to Homer as well as convenient for locals and visitors near the Kenai River.
“Being along the main drag here, that’s a pretty impressive count of vehicles,” Udelhoven said.
Both men have backgrounds in medicine — Lanofear is a nurse practitioner and Udelhoven is a physician assistant. The clinic is meant to complement rather than replace primary care physicians, they said. Primary care physicians are meant to be the medical center for patients, who take care of their patients’ chronic conditions and general health over time. Specialists take care of other specific conditions and then send reports back to the primary care provider. An urgent care clinic would be like one of those ancillary specialist clinics, sending reports of a walk-in visit to a patient’s primary care physician.
Though the clinic is currently open Monday through Friday between 9 a.m. and 6 p.m., Udelhoven and Lanfear eventually hope to have it open for extended hours seven days per week. They have equipment to perform laboratory tests and x-rays in-house as well. The goal is to have someone be able to walk in and be seen by a provider as soon as possible.
“We both have an idea of what we wanted urgent care to be,” Lanfear said. “This urgent care clinic is following the Lower 48 model of what urgent care is.”
Urgent care clinics have grown rapidly all over the Lower 48 and are working their way into Alaska. Urgent Care of Soldotna joins Family Medical Clinic in Soldotna and Medicenter in Kenai in providing urgent care services for walk-in patients.
The Urgent Care Association of America estimated that there are approximately 7,400 full-service urgent care clinics across the country, with the industry adding about 300 centers per year since 2008. In its directory, the association lists 22 urgent care clinics in Alaska, two of which are on the Kenai Peninsula. It’s not all of them, though — Urgent Care of Soldotna is not listed there, though Lanfear said they plan to seek accreditation in the future.
In part, it answers the growing demand for medical care but the relative shortage of appointments. Patients can sometimes wait weeks for appointments with a primary care provider, especially as a new patient. The state has long had a shortage and mal-distribution of primary care physicians which is likely to get worse as the population and demand grows over the next decade, according to the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services’ 2015–2016 primary care needs assessment.
Lanfear said the need for medical appointments without the long wait was something they considered when they were looking at starting the clinic. They went to the Alaska Small Business Development Center for advice and were able to get useful information through its services, he said.
“They have a ton of information,” he said. “(University of Alaska Anchorage) business students were helping us.”
The space they moved into formerly housed a dental clinic, and to suit their purposes, they remodeled it with individual exam rooms and space for imaging equipment and staff. Once they get up and running, they expect to bring on additional staff and extend hours, Udelhoven said.
Despite the economic recession sweeping Alaska amid the ongoing downturn in oil prices, the health care sector has continued to grow. Employment in the state fell about 1.3 percent between September 2016 and September 2017, but health care employment grew 1.4 percent, according to an Oct. 20 release from the Alaska Department of Labor and Workforce Development. Udelhoven said that gave them some confidence that there was a market to keep the business afloat.
“Despite what’s occurring even now, people still have insurance, people still get hurt, people still get sick,” he said.
Reach Elizabeth Earl at firstname.lastname@example.org.