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Retail clinics rising in popularity outside West Virginia

By Lydia Nuzum, Staff writer

Urgent care centers and walk-in clinics can be found in abundance across West Virginia, but the state is far behind in primary health care's latest trend —  retail store clinics in big box stores.

There are currently more than 1,600 walk-in clinics in stores like CVS, Walgreens, Target and Kroger in the U.S., according to The Wall Street Journal. The number of clinics is predicted to double in the next three years to meet the demands of the Affordable Care Act, but no retail store clinics have been proposed in the Mountain State, according to Jim Pitrolo, chairman of the West Virginia Health Care Authority.

Applying to open a clinic is relatively simple, Pitrolo said — a store or company would need to obtain a certificate of need from the Healthcare Authority by demonstrating that a community is underserved by the health-care providers currently available. 

“In West Virginia right now, the most common clinics are MedExpress, but they're stand-alone and physician-owned,” he said. “In this state, you need a certificate of need unless you’re a private physician. If it were Rite Aid, for example, and a private physician rented space from them and opened an office, they would be exempt. If Rite Aid hires them as an employee and does the billing, they would be considered a non-physician and would need a certificate."

West Virginia has excelled in its Medicaid expansion under the ACA, and has enrolled more than 117,000 people in the program since Oct. 1.

In October, the West Virginia Rural Health Association released a workforce-demand analysis “Health Care in West Virginia," which found a shortage of 478 primary care physicians in West Virginia. 

Perry Bryant, executive director of West Virginians for Affordable Health Care, told the Gazette in April that the low reimbursement rate offered by Medicaid will likely cause some primary care physicians to refuse new Medicaid patients, which could worsen West Virginians' access to care. 

Carl York, public affairs manager for Kroger's Mid-Atlantic Region, which covers Virginia, West Virginia and North Carolina, said his region has yet to do any extensive research on West Virginia's need, and is in the early stages of planning its first retail clinic in Richmond, Virginia. 

"It's something we're starting to roll out across our division," York said. "We have other divisions across the country, and clinics in a lot of our stores across the country, but our division is really just getting started. We're really just starting in Richmond right now. With any new business venture like this, you really want to start small and see how it's accepted and fine tune it before you start to roll it out elsewhere."

According to Jamie Bastian, a spokesperson for Target, the company operates 70 clinics in Minnesota, Maryland, Illinois, Florida, Virginia and North Carolina.

The company selects locations based on certain criteria, including the number of Target stores in an area and their proximity to one another. According to Bastian, the company cannot comment on whether they have plans to expand to new markets in the near future. 

Reach Lydia Nuzum

at lydia.nuzum@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5189. 


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