FORT WORTH -- The JPS Health Network should open more urgent- and primary-care clinics to meet the needs of patients and ease emergency room crowding, according to an assessment of public-health needs in Tarrant County that was released Thursday.
Better access to urgent and primary care, particularly in areas where demand for JPS services is greatest, would keep people without emergencies out of emergency rooms, said John Maher, director of Premier Consulting Solutions.
Existing clinics are too often located away from populations likeliest to need them, he said.
"People who are coming to the emergency room don't have another place to go, or don't know of another place to go. That's what is driving this overutilization" of emergency department services, Maher said.
JPS operates two urgent-care clinics, one at the main hospital and one in Arlington. It also operates 16 primary-care clinics.
Board members called the assessment an important step as JPS makes plans to meet future needs. BOKA Powell, an architectural firm, is preparing a facilities utilization analysis and plan.
"We believe the data is showing that JPS has an opportunity to add to urgent-care services and help meet the needs of those who are seeking nonemergency care, as well as primary care," Maher said.
Board member Dr. Rex Hyer noted that some patients choose the emergency room because they get treatment regardless of whether they can pay for it. Patients would need incentives to opt for urgent-care clinics, he said.
"For example, if you go to the emergency room not for an emergency, you're going to have to wait," he said. "Cut the wait time down at the urgent-care clinics so people go there instead of the emergency room."
Board member Tonya Veasey suggested that some patients aren't aware of urgent- and primary-care clinics and that a strong education campaign would steer them away from the emergency room.
"Some type of public education campaign to really show people where to go," she said. "When can you call and ask a nurse? When should you go to an emergency room? When should you go to an urgent-care center?"
The assessment summary identified the county's areas of greatest demand for JPS services. It focused on a study population of 317,700 in Tarrant County, which included the uninsured, under-65 population and undocumented people. The assessment factored in their demographics and health needs, as well as the supply and utilization of services available to them.
Neighborhoods southeast and north of downtown Fort Worth were among those identified as having the greatest demand for service in Tarrant County, followed by north Arlington.
Robert Earley, JPS president and CEO, said he saw great value in the assessment's reliance on empirical data.
"No disrespect to any elected official anywhere, but you can't just put these where an elected official says, 'By golly, I want this,'" Earley said. "You may not be addressing the needs of the people we are serving."
The assessment noted that some JPS primary-care clinics are operating at or above capacity and suggested strategically placing new ones to decrease the burden on them.
ALEX BRANCH, 817-390-7689