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Home » Cayuga County » Urgent care clinics have become a catch-all for an exhausted, short-staffed healthcare system

Urgent care clinics have become a catch-all for an exhausted, short-staffed healthcare system

  • / Updated:
  • Josh Durso 

Ever since the coronavirus pandemic began long wait times at urgent care centers across the Finger Lakes and Central New York have been common.

This winter those wait times have gotten even longer with urgent care clinics of all shapes and sizes contending with an array of illnesses.

Doctors at urgent care clinics say it isn’t wintertime illnesses, like RSV or influenza, in combination with COVID-19. Rather, it’s everything that urgent care clinicians are forced to deal with collectively.

Speaking on condition of anonymity, one clinician told that urgent care centers have become the primary care doctors office of 30 or 40 years ago. “We see people with regular illnesses, the stuff everyone expects to see at a doctors office in the winter,” the clinician explained. “That’s not the problem.”

They said the problem is the density of patients coming to see them for ‘everything else’.

“The convenience and availability of urgent care centers has really tipped the scale,” the clinician continued. “The number of people we encounter now who answer ‘no’ to the ‘Do you have a primary care physician’ question is off the charts.”

Here’s one way to look at it, through the eyes of that clinician and their colleagues:

Before the pandemic, urgent care clinics would see a couple kids per week with social or behavioral issues. Meaning, their parents brought them in because they seemed to be acting out of character. The clinician explained that it could have several causes including undiagnosed ADHD, or any other common behavioral health diagnosis.

Now, these clinics are seeing dozens of these cases per week. The clinician we spoke with said it’s a reflection of what’s available.

“People got really used to going straight to urgent care, and the lack of primary care doctors has finally caught up with most communities,” the clinician explained. “Adding fuel to the fire is increased prevalence of these behavioral health diagnosis’.”

Add that on top of a ‘triple-demic’ and it’s a recipe for long wait times. “We see everyone who comes in, whether they have to be referred elsewhere or if they’d be better off being seen elsewhere,” the clinician continued. “Parents are frustrated by wait times, and workers inside the clinics are getting burned out.”