QUEENS — When 3-year-old Brendon got a skin rash on a recent Monday evening, his mother, Ebony Cochran, didn't want to take him to a crowded emergency room. Instead, she brought him to a nearby urgent care center in Forest Hills.
“Whenever he gets sick and it's after 4 p.m. I bring him here because the pediatrician’s office is already closed,” said Cochran, while waiting at the Forest Urgent Care Center. “We come here about twice a month.”
A growing number of patients use urgent medical centers — walk-in clinics that treat illnesses requiring immediate medical attention but are not life-threatening, such as broken bones or cuts requiring stitches — as an alternative to regular doctor's offices and busy emergency rooms.
In Forest Hills, in addition to the Forest Urgent Care Center on 75th Avenue, another similar center — Health Professionals NYC — opened several weeks ago on Queens Boulevard, near 77th Avenue.
At least two more urgent care centers are planned for Austin Street, within two blocks of each other.
Tanyelle Broschart, marketing associate at CityMD, said the Forest Hills location is scheduled to open in May. The neighborhood was chosen because “it’s a very dense and diverse area" and "a lot of families live there," she said.
She also said that there are “not too many hospitals in the area.”
“The ones that are still here are overcrowded," Broschart said. "So we alleviate a little bit of the stress on the hospitals for those patients that are dealing with non life-threatening emergencies.”
CityMD, founded by a group of doctors in 2010, currently operates 13 centers. But the group is planning to open 18 additional locations throughout the five boroughs, in Long Island and upstate New York, according to the company’s website.
The group also just opened a location in Astoria and is also planning a center in Sunnyside.
Frank Gulluscio, district manager at Community Board 6, which covers Forest Hills and Rego Park, said that urgent care centers are also interested in Forest Hills because of its “very large senior population.”
The number of urgent care facilities continues to grow — there are several thousand across the country and at least six dozen in Queens — as private and city-run hospitals are closing their doors in what Mayor Bill de Blasio called an "epidemic" of healthcare.
According to the New York State Department of Health, four hospitals have closed in Queens in the last six years, including Parkway in Forest Hills, which closed in 2008, St. John’s in Elmhurst and Mary Immaculate in Jamaica, both of which shuttered in 2009 and Peninsula, which was shut down in the Rockaways in 2012, shedding several hundred hospital beds in the borough. Eleven hospitals are still operating in Queens.
Because of high maintenance costs "it becomes harder and harder to run a hospital," which also results in a "shift towards shorter observation periods and more aggressive outpatient management," said Dr. John D’Angelo, senior vice president and executive director of emergency medicine at North Shore-LIJ Health System, a Long Island-based healthcare network.
On the other hand, experts say urgent care centers have a number of benefits.
“They are open seven days a week. They are usually open in the evening hours and you don’t need an appointment,” D’Angelo said.
“They are usually staffed with doctors that handle a lot of acute illnesses and usually have lab capabilities."
He said one disadvantage is that the care offered at urgent centers is more “episodic.”
“You don’t get that established long-term relationship if people rely on urgent care centers too much,” D’Angelo said.
But DeAnne Lorde, a mother of two teenage girls, said she is not looking for a relationship with doctors at the urgent care centers that the family has been using on a regular basis for the past five years.
The family has a longtime relationship with a pediatrician in Flatbush, where they lived before moving to Jamaica a couple of years ago.
“We still go there for annual checkups or with problems that don’t require immediate medical attention,” Lorde said.
But when her 12-year old daughter, Najah, recently became ill with strep throat, they went to an urgent care center in New Hyde Park, about 20-minute drive from their home.
“You don’t need to make an appointment and the lab is right there in case tests are required,” she said. “It’s quick and convenient.”