ORLEANS — Cape Cod Healthcare, the organization that owns both of Cape Cod’s hospitals and most of its medical offices, expanded its territory in the direction of the Outer Cape by opening a seasonal urgent care center in Orleans on July 2.
The clinic will operate seven days a week from July through Columbus Day. And when it closes in the fall, Cape Cod Healthcare CEO Mike Lauf said, he plans to open a year-round primary-care office with “two or three providers” in the adjoining space. The building, now named the Orleans Medical Center, sits in what used to be the parking area of the Lobster Claw restaurant on Route 6A next to the Nauset Fish Market & Lobster Pool.
Urgent care is designed to treat complaints that do not require emergency services, such as strep throat, urinary tract infections, tick bites, cuts requiring stitches, sprains, and ear infections. There is walk-in Covid-19 rapid testing available at the center as well, said Lauf.
The growth of such facilities has exploded in Massachusetts, driven by a combination of forces, including a national shortage of primary-care doctors, which causes people to seek care in emergency rooms, which is expensive. Many health insurance policies require costly co-payments for emergency room visits. Co-payments for urgent care visits are often about one-third of those for emergency care visits, Lauf said.
In 2010, Massachusetts had 18 urgent care centers. By 2018, there were 145, according to State House News Service.
Cape Cod Healthcare’s urgent care center in Harwich was seeing 180 to 220 people per day, said Lauf, which showed that “the need is very evident” for the Orleans facility. “We anticipate it will serve the Lower and Outer Cape,” he said.
On July 5, the waiting time at the Harwich urgent care center to see a provider was one hour and 20 minutes, while it was 15 minutes at the Orleans center, according to the Cape Cod Healthcare website.
Lauf said he was working hard to hire primary-care doctors amid a national shortage, and that he hopes to have year-round doctors on board at the Orleans center by the fall.
The addition of urgent care and primary care in Orleans will have an unknown effect on Outer Cape Health Services (OCHS), the nonprofit federally qualified health center that has provided the only medical services from Provincetown to Orleans for years. OCHS operates three clinics, in Provincetown, Wellfleet, and Harwich.
Patricia Nadle, the CEO of OCHS, said she is not worried about urgent care coming to Orleans. But there is a concern that the new primary-care business could take clients and potential staff from Outer Cape Health.
The primary care office in Orleans “could introduce some level of competition, but we will wait to see what happens,” said Nadle. “The work force is a significant issue. The health-care community is not untouched by the staffing shortage, and now you add competing for the same talent pool. Sometimes competition is good, and sometimes it is not.”
OCHS pays its primary-care physicians $200,000 per year right out of medical school, she said. Cape Cod Healthcare’s compensation is similar, according to Nadle. But OCHS can offer the added incentive of loan forgiveness because the Outer Cape is medically underserved and OCHS is a federally qualified health center, she said.
“You can work here at that compensation and not have to pay your student loans,” she said.
Hours at the Orleans urgent care center are Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. and 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays