When Shands at Alachua General Hospital closed in 2009, it left just two emergency rooms and the Department of Veterans Affairs to serve all of Alachua County. Dr. Steven Yucht, the hospital’s final chief of staff, worked in the hospital’s emergency room for 11 years and knew this closure would create a gaping void in area emergency care.
“Hospital emergency rooms are always at crisis point,” said Yucht, who was also a member of NASA’s medical support team for 33 shuttle missions. “For the majority of the day, there are more patients than staff can handle. That’s why people wait to be seen. It doesn’t necessarily cater to comfort or compassion. ERs are focused simply with not missing that next life-threatening problem.”
Yucht sought to open a facility providing high-quality emergency medical services, but with a central focus on comfort. Wait times would be shorter and costs lower, and staff would have the opportunity to provide compassionate care for patients.
His vision came to be in January of 2010 when the Emergency Physicians Medical Center opened its doors. Located in the Tower 24 complex off of Tower Road in Gainesville, the center provides most services found in any top-notch emergency room – care for fractures, dislocations, chest pain lasting longer than 24 hours, gastrointestinal issues like vomiting or abdominal pain, lacerations, breathing problems, allergic reactions and more – but with the personal touch of a smaller clinic. Medicare and most major medical insurance carriers are accepted.
“We are your alternative to the ER,” said Charles Cooper, the facility’s office manager and a 20-year veteran of the health care industry. “We can do almost anything an emergency room can do. And we make a follow-up call the next day to make sure that you’re doing okay, that your visit was satisfactory and that you don’t need any additional treatment.”
Open seven days a week, the Emergency Physicians Medical Center combines high-end equipment with comforting touches of home. The facility includes seven examination rooms, two of which are also designated cardiac rooms. It also boasts a fully stocked procedure room, ultrasound equipment and on-site laboratory for standard emergency tests. The digital X-ray machine sends images to the doctor within 30 seconds; in many cases by the time the patient returns to his examination room, results can already be discussed with the physician. The center’s website allows patients to check in online and download patient forms, further reducing treatment times.
The speed and ease of patient care is not just an asset to the patient. Dr. Michael White joined the staff earlier this year and sees the immediate benefit for all involved. “I can do emergency medicine here more easily because there is less bureaucracy,” White said. “I can perform dislocation reductions, complex laceration repairs, lumbar punctures… you name it, we can do it here.”
Calming touches of home complement the efficient design of the center. The waiting area is awash in warm colors and filled with comfortable seating. Examination rooms include loveseats, heaters and flat-panel television sets so that patients and loved ones alike can relax and control their environment. Many of the fixtures and pieces of artwork look like they come straight out of a serene model home.
Perhaps the greatest asset to the facility, however, is the staff. Yucht and two other physicians –White and his wife, Dr. Molly White – all have extensive experience with trauma and emergency medicine, and at least one doctor is always present when the office is open. Several nurses, X-ray technicians and other medical personnel serve patients efficiently and compassionately. It is a close-knit group that thrives in such a self-sufficient environment.
“One of the nice things about being a non-corporate, non-hospital-owned independent entity is that you can have a much more family-style operation,” Yucht said. “I really care about the quality of what we do here, and in order to make quality happen, I have to have great people. Having great people is also about making sure they are happy.”
The Emergency Physicians Medical Center is dedicated not only to the quick and thorough treatment of patients, but to the complete follow-through of their conditions as well. If a patient arrives with a broken arm the staff can take an X-ray, explain the situation, splint the arm and send him home. But the physician will also have him return days later to re-examine the injury and make sure it is healing properly before putting on a cast. A client diagnosed with pneumonia or a severe skin infection often returns for intravenous antibiotics and monitoring to ensure they are improving.
“Our goal is not only to keep you out of the emergency room, but out of the hospital,” Yucht said. “If we’re managing somebody with a severe illness as an outpatient, we can keep him out of the hospital about 99 percent of the time.”
Even with the wide range of medical services available in a community like Gainesville, the Emergency Physicians Medical Center fills a unique niche. And Yucht has a unique way of stating what he hopes to accomplish.
“We want to be known as the Ritz-Carlton of emergency care,” he said with a smile. “We can provide ER-level care for just about anything, and patients’ experiences will be much more pleasant coming here than going to the emergency department. We want to make that experience the best that it can be anywhere.”