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Cottage Grove loses only urgent care option as the practice grows elsewhere

The HealthPartners clinic in Cottage Grove no longer offers urgent care services. It was the only urgent care clinic in south Washington County. Woodbury has three urgent care clinics. Katie Nelson / RiverTown Multimedia

Cottage Grove-area patients in need of urgent medical care no longer have a local option.

HealthPartners eliminated its Cottage Grove urgent care services in January, leaving no urgent care facility in south Washington County.

HealthPartners stopped offering urgent care in Cottage Grove Jan. 13, spokesman Patrick Strait said. He said the decision was part of a larger organizational shift to create a "consistent urgent care experience" in clinics that "can support 12-hour urgent care operations."

"Unfortunately, given the number of patients seen at Cottage Grove Urgent Care and the limitation in space, this urgent care site was not able to support this new model and we could no longer provide urgent care services at this location," he said.

Strait said HealthPartners is trying to expand hours and services in other locations, but not Cottage Grove. It's also possible that change won't remain permanent.

"As of now there is no plan to reinstate urgent care services at this clinic," he said. "That said ... should the need present itself we would be willing to reevaluate."

Cottage Grove's other two clinics, Allina and HealthEast, do not offer urgent care.

There's a chance Allina could bring urgent care back to Cottage Grove, Allina spokesman Tim Burke said.

"Allina Health Urgent Care is looking at several possible locations to expand, including Cottage Grove, but at this time, no decisions have been made," he said in an email.

The Cottage Grove HealthEast clinic does not provide urgent care either; its closest — and only — urgent care locations are Woodbury and Maplewood.

Nearby urgent care services remain open at HealthPartners, Allina and the Urgency Center in Woodbury and Allina urgent care in Inver Grove Heights. Regina Hospital in Hastings also offers emergency room care.

Bucking trends

Urgent care is designed to treat injuries or illnesses somewhere between an emergency and a clinic appointment. Generally, patients are able to walk in and out for services, which is why it's sometimes known as ambulatory care.

Urgent care lowers costs for the medical industry by billions of dollars each year by bypassing emergency room treatment on many less intensive injuries or ailments, according to the American Academy of Urgent Care Medicine. It often is more cost-effective and quicker than emergency room care.

Though Cottage Grove lost its only urgent care provider, that's the opposite of what's happening elsewhere.

According to the Urgent Care Association of America, urgent care across the U.S. has seen impressive growth over the past five years.

In 2016, there were approximately 7,400 clinics nationally, up from 6,700 in 2015 and about 6,000 in 2014. They estimate since 2011 the average rate of growth has been about 600 new urgent care clinics per year.

These numbers are only expected to keep growing. MedExpress urgent care centers will multiply in the Twin Cities market in the coming years.

MedExpress spokeswoman Kelly Sorice said they have several within the next 12 months, and that they are working on "broad expansion across the state."

"We thought (Minnesota) was a really great market for our model," she said. "We've found that Minnesotans particularly like convenient access."

The number of clinics has grown, but the number of patients has too.

Laura Olson, regional director of primary care for HealthEast, said the volume at their urgent care clinics increased about 25 percent between 2015 and 2016.

The Urgent Care Association of America reported that in 2015, 96 percent of urgent care centers saw an increase in number of patients, and 90 percent also anticipated growth in 2016.

With the number of patients and clinics growing, it's odd to see metro cities above 35,000 to see urgent care closing rather than opening.

Across Minnesota there are at least 90 urgent care clinics, with more on the way. There are also at least 60 minute clinics or express clinics in Hy-Vee, CVS or other locations.

About 60 of those urgent care clinics live in the metro area, with the majority of those metro clinics in cities with a population above 50,000.

There are 10 just in Minneapolis and St. Paul — five in each city — in addition to one adult mental health urgent care clinic in St. Paul for the metro area.

The east metro is one of the smaller urgent care markets, with only nine of those 60-some metro clinics, compared to the 20-plus in the west metro. Woodbury alone claims three of the east metro's nine urgent care centers.

The rest of the state's urgent care facilities are scattered across the west and the Iron Range, with multiple clinics generally only popping up in larger cities — Duluth, Rochester, Bemidji.

Mayo offers urgent care at about 10 or so of its clinics in Minnesota, but many of the facilities are offered by local hospitals or clinics, rather than the larger companies like MedExpress.