Needing emergency care once meant a trip to the hospital, but not so much any more. Large medical operations are increasingly building emergency rooms called “urgency centers” closer to where people live and work.
The latest example is in Minnetonka, where city officials stood shoulder-to-shoulder with smiling North Memorial Health Care executives and developers last week to break ground for the Minnetonka Medical Center.
The 63,000 square-foot building will house an urgency center, which is a fully equipped emergency department staffed by board-certified emergency response physicians. It will be located along Hwy. 7 just west of Interstate 494.
Dr. J. Kevin Croston, president of outpatient services and chief medical officer at North Memorial, said the center fills a niche between more expensive hospitals that are needed for the most serious problems, and less expensive urgent care clinics that treat nonemergency ailments. It’s part of a growing trend in medicine to offer a greater continuum of emergency care to help control costs and increase convenience, he said.
The center will treat people with injuries “when you know they’re probably not going to have to spend a night in a hospital,” Croston said. “They don’t have to drive all the way to a hospital to get that care.”
Those problems might include sports injuries, kidney stones, fractures, chest pain, concussions, pneumonia and abdominal pain, he said. The new urgency center will not accept ambulances, which will continue to be routed directly to the hospital, Croston said. But otherwise it will offer nearly all the services that a hospital emergency provides, he said, but at less expense.
One concern is that the public will confuse urgency centers with urgent care centers, Croston said.
“We’ve got to be careful that we’re not driving people from the urgent care centers into the urgency rooms, because we don’t want to be using an expensive way of providing care for small things like a cold or the flu or something,” he said.
The two-story building will also include a lab and imaging center, Croston said, so that patients treated at North Memorial outpatient clinics in the surrounding area can use it as a “destination center” and won’t need to drive long distances to the hospital for blood draws and other work.
And it is likely to include a primary care clinic, and programs that focus on men’s health, physical therapy, sports medicine and perhaps other specialties.
Croston estimated that 50 people will begin working at the center after its expected opening in September 2014.
North Memorial opened its first urgency center in Blaine last spring.
The Minnetonka City Council approved the latest project two months ago, but it was not without earlier controversy.
The Davis Real Estate Services Group originally proposed a slightly larger building but nearby residents opposed it, saying that it was too drastic a change for the neighborhood. The site contains four houses and three commercial buildings that will be demolished.
Molly Ekstrand, who lives on Highwood Drive directly across from the site, said that the Davis Group and the city worked with her and other neighbors to come up with a compromise: a slightly smaller building to be sited closer to Hwy. 7, and more buffer space between homes and the parking lot.