Kaiser reverses decision to end after-hours urgent-care services at Md. facility

By Lena H. Sun
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, February 19, 2010

Kaiser Permanente has reversed a decision to stop offering its heavily used after-hours urgent-care services in Kensington after members protested, a top Kaiser executive said Thursday.

The HMO, which has nearly a half-million members in the Washington metropolitan area, sent a letter to members three weeks ago informing them that urgent care at its Kensington Medical Center would end effective Feb. 28. The after-hours services were to be relocated to Kaiser's Shady Grove facility, about 10 miles away, Kaiser said.

The Kensington office serves about 125,000 members in Bethesda, Chevy Chase, Silver Spring, Kensington and parts of the District, and offers basic health care after standard work hours, officials said. Members said they were angry about the inconvenience and lack of notice, coming two months after open enrollment had ended.

After protests from members, Kensington Mayor Peter C. Fosselman and Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), Kaiser officials decided earlier this week to keep urgent-care services at Kensington but with shorter hours.

"We heard those concerns loud and clear," said Carrie Harris-Muller, chief administrative officer for Kaiser Permanente's mid-Atlantic region. "Based upon their strong concerns to us about the inconvenience this relocation would cause them, we've modified our decision and will keep Kensington open with modified hours."

From April 5 through the end of the year, urgent-care hours will be scaled back to 5 to 10 p.m. Monday through Friday (instead of 5 p.m. to 1 a.m.) and to 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. on weekends and holidays (instead of 9 a.m. to 1 a.m.).

Mark Zuckerman, a Chevy Chase resident, said his family has relied on Kensington's after-hours care for 13 years. "If you had a sick child with a 103-degree fever, or sports injuries on the weekend, this was great, especially if you have two working parents," Zuckerman said.

Kaiser officials said the relocation of services to Shady Grove was aimed at providing a more comprehensive range of care and access to more advanced technology in one facility.

The community reaction took officials by surprise.

"They told me they had completely miscalculated the reaction they would get," said Zuckerman, who spoke with Kaiser executives. "They had listened to the doctors' clinical reasons, but hadn't considered community reaction.

"The truth is, people who go to urgent care have fevers or they need antibiotics for cuts and scrapes. They don't need fancy MRIs."

Kaiser's Harris-Muller said officials would "fully engage members" earlier in the process in future decisions.

Kaiser Permanente provides after-hours urgent care in Falls Church, Camp Springs and the District's West End. Beginning March 1, it will start offering urgent-care services at its medical office buildings at Shady Grove and Largo.

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