Laura Alegrira has taken at least one of her four children to the JPS Health Network's North Tri-Ethnic health clinic for 12 years. She makes the three-minute drive from her north Fort Worth home for nasty colds, flu outbreaks and checkups.
So she was disappointed to hear that the clinic was one of four that JPS plans to close by Oct. 1.
"I really like the nurse; she is always here for us," Alegrira said. "And it's nice knowing she is so close by."
JPS officials say that the public hospital district is consolidating services to improve efficiency and that the closures won't impede patient access.
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Alegrira, for example, will be able to take her children to the same nurse practitioner at another clinic no more than three miles away, they say.
A consultant's study recently concluded that the hospital district's resources have become too scattered.
"We really need to align resources better than we have in the past," Chief Operating Officer Bill Whitman said.
All the clinics that are closing are staffed by only one practitioner and have small patient volumes, said Chris Dougherty, senior vice president of community health. In most cases, other clinics with space to absorb the patients operate within a few miles.
The clinics that are closing are North Tri-Ethnic, 2950 Roosevelt Ave.; Riverside, 201 S. Sylvania Ave.; Alliance, 2400 Westport Parkway; and the allergy clinic near John Peter Smith Hospital, 1500 S. Main St.
Officials say that they will still operate 36 clinics, including those at schools.
Through the closures, JPS will save more than $500,000 annually, officials said.
Hospital officials say they hope to finalize a plan for redirecting displaced patients to other clinics by Friday.
The patients will be notified of the changes before the closings, they say.
Patients who use the North Tri-Ethnic and Riverside clinics may get steered to the Diamond Hill clinic, 3308 Deen Road. The Diamond Hill clinic already gets about 40,000 patient visits a year.
The North Tri-Ethnic clinic inside a city of Fort Worth community center has a pediatric nurse practitioner who sees about 3,000 patients annually. It is about three miles from the Diamond Hill clinic, Dougherty said.
Some patients said that with Head Start and early childhood programs also available at the center, it is a convenient place to bring children.
"My kids like coming here," Alegrira said before an appointment for her daughter.
The Riverside clinic is staffed by a family medicine nurse practitioner, who sees about 1,500 patients a year, Dougherty said. On a recent afternoon, only one person was in the eight-chair waiting room.
"These are great sites," Dougherty said. "But when you have funding challenges, these are the kinds of decisions you have to make."
The Alliance clinic in far north Fort Worth opened several years ago as part of a previous hospital administration's effort to attract more patients with insurance.
The volume of JPS Connection patients -- those enrolled in the network's indigent care program -- is "pretty small," Whitman told the board of managers during a budget retreat.
Less than 5 percent of patients who use the Alliance clinic live in the immediate area, Dougherty said. Many patients live east and south of the clinic and drive considerable distances to reach it.
Primary-care clinics could absorb services offered at the allergy clinic, he said.
Dougherty said he does not believe the consolidations will cause longer waits for clinic appointments. Patients have complained of long waits for years. The hospital district is working to reduce wait times by increasing the number of primary-care physicians in clinics and better utilizing nursing teams, he said.
Soon, JPS will launch a phone system that will allow clinic patients to contact a nurse and get information about a health condition or symptom without visiting a clinic or the emergency department, he added.
"Our goal is to create same-day, next-day appointment availability in our clinics," he said.
Tarrant County Commissioner J.D. Johnson said another benefit of the closures is that the hospital district won't have to install and connect its new electronic medical records system in those buildings. The district is spending $40 million on the system this year and plans to take it live in May.
The clinics closing are "pretty small," Johnson said, and he trusts that hospital officials are making a wise decision.
"I'm told they will work with patients to make sure everyone understand the changes," he said. "In most cases, people will only be driving a few more miles. [JPS] is not going to stop providing these people services."
Alex Branch, 817-390-7689