Shands to open freestanding ER

Published: Wednesday, December 19, 2012 at 2:31 p.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, December 19, 2012 at 2:31 p.m.

In some respects, emergency medicine has taken center stage in the national health care debate, since one of the goals of the Affordable Care Act is to improve access to primary care and preventive medicine so that people who shouldn't be at emergency rooms don't end up there.

But the reality throughout the nation is still that emergency rooms often are flooded, and Gainesville is no exception. To meet the needs of the growing population in northwest Gainesville, Shands at the University of Florida will open the city's first freestanding emergency department next year on Northwest 39th Avenue.

Freestanding emergency departments fill the gap between hospital emergency rooms and urgent care facilities. The Shands facility will treat patients with respiratory distress, abdominal pain, allergic reaction, food poisoning, orthopaedic injuries and fractures, lacerations and minor burns, but not those with major trauma, heart attack and stroke, who would be referred to hospitals, according to a recent Shands news release.

"This concept has been around for many, many years. The city of Gainesville has just never been big enough to warrant it," said Edward Jimenez, Shands at UF senior vice president and chief operating officer. "But as we see the community grow, it's pretty clear that the community would benefit."

Jimenez said the closest freestanding facility is in Ocala, 15 miles west of the Munroe Regional Medical Center.

Gainesville's new $10 million facility, expected to open next summer, will include 10 exam spaces and be staffed by a team of newly hired physicians and nurses. It will be located across the street from UF and Shands psychiatric offices and next to Shands' new multi-specialty Springhill clinic, which was dedicted last Thursday.

According to Dr. Joseph A. Tyndall, chair of emergency medicine at the UF College of Medicine and chief of emergency services at the Shands Critical Care Center, the freestanding clinic "hopefully will have the impact of reducing some of the pressures of ER in the area, as well as increasing access to fairly important care."

Tyndall said the volume of patients visiting the city's hospital emergency rooms increased 50 percent between 2009 and 2012. He suspects that many of those people wound up at the ER because of lack of timely access to primary care. "Because of this, they end up with conditions that eventually require emergency care," Tyndall said.

This is a national problem, as are the related issues of emergency room overcrowding and long wait times, he continued. When Shands opened a pediatric ER unit in 2011, wait times decreased, and Tyndall said he is hopeful for the same result with the opening of the freestanding clinic.

Construction on the clinic will begin in January.

Kristine Crane is a Gainesville Sun staff writer.

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