Mercy adds Elkhorn clinic; expanding in Delavan

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staff, Gazette
Wednesday, April 10, 2013

— Mercy Health System’s gleaming new clinic in Elkhorn features state-of-the-art facilities, large exam rooms and plenty of natural light from its soaring lobby windows.

Its most significant additions, however, are the primary care physicians who will soon work there, improving access to medical care in a community where doctors are relatively scarce.

The clinic opened April 1, offering services in family medicine, internal medicine and a host of specialty fields. It also boasts radiology equipment, X-ray services and a lab.

Mercy doctors from nearby hospitals staff the clinic now, rotating in for afternoon shifts, Mercy Vice President Jeni Hallatt said.

Two new primary care physicians—doctors who give check-ups or provide basic screenings—will join the clinic full time in August, Hallatt said. Mercy hopes to add two more in the coming years.

“We are bringing a clinic where the patients are in need,” she said. “Bringing the physicians to them so that they don’t have to travel to other areas of the county, or even outside of the county, for their primary care needs.”

As the Elkhorn clinic saw its first patients last week, Mercy is also working on an expansion project at its Delavan facility, which is set to open in September. It will bring another two new primary care physicians to the area, along with a rotating cast of specialists.

That’s a big deal in Walworth County, where one study found the ratio of primary care physicians to residents was more than double the state average.

The study from the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation defined primary care physicians as doctors who work in general practice, family, internal or pediatric medicine.

There are 1,247 residents for every primary care physician in Wisconsin, the study reported. With just 40 doctors serving more than 100,000 residents, Walworth County had a ratio of 2,559-to-1, which ranks among the state’s worst.

Access to those physicians is particularly important, experts say. They provide the kind of basic and preventive care that can address health problems early on—before they become bigger, costlier and more dangerous.

“You want to stop things before they become catastrophic,” Walworth County Public Health Officer Jan Ellefsen said.

The county’s relative lack of primary care doctors is a problem, Ellefsen said, because it makes it easy for people to put off that sort of care.

Hallatt echoed that sentiment. Mercy identified Walworth County as an area that needed more primary care doctors, she said, in part because of its growth over the past couple of decades.

Adding six new physicians over the next few years would make seeing a doctor much easier, Hallatt said.

“The closer the physician is to where the patient lives, the more likely they are to receive those services,” she said. “If you have someone that does not live near a health care facility, they’re not going to be as reminded to come in” to receive care.

Even with the new doctors, Walworth County’s ratio of residents to primary care physicians will still be greater than the state’s. Still, Ellefsen said the physicians that will join the new Elkhorn clinic represent a step in the right direction.

“We just need to start bringing down that number,” Ellefsen said.

Last updated: 10:27 am Tuesday, July 2, 2013

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