THE ISSUE: Bayfront Health Seven Rivers plans stand-alone emergency facility in Citrus Hills.

OUR OPINION: Convenience with a price.

Bayfront Health Seven Rivers hospital announced recently that it plans to construct a stand-alone emergency department facility in Citrus Hills near where County Road 486 and Forest Ridge Drive intersect. It’s a busy and growing area, featuring nearby retail pharmacies, a Publix grocery store, two senior living communities and the main entrance to the Terra Vista subdivision. Plans call for opening in early 2020.

That location will offer a convenience to residents in the immediate area. It is roughly midway between Citrus Memorial Hospital in Inverness and Bayfront Health Seven Rivers (BHSR) north of Crystal River, both of which have (generally busy) emergency departments on campus.

The trend for hospitals to establish off-campus emergency departments has really accelerated since 2010. According to a congressional research commission’s 2017 report, nearly 400 were operating in 35 states by 2016. Add to that the more than 200 independent facilities not affiliated with hospitals. Bayfront Health is not alone in establishing hospital-affiliated ED facilities; HCA, which operates Citrus Memorial, also has a number of them in its Florida network.

The BHSR stand-alone emergency department will offer all the same services as its on-campus affiliate and thus may bill Medicare as well as accept private insurance. Area residents will appreciate that there’s a clean, certified facility nearby that can help them at odd hours, for example late on a Saturday night.

There’s a price for this convenience, though. While stand-alone hospital emergency departments may offer speedier care than on-campus EDs, industry studies have identified that they typically see less-complex cases. These facilities bill like regular hospital emergency departments, making them significantly more expensive than urgent care centers that could handle many of the same patient complaints.

Nationwide, hospitals typically locate stand-alone EDs in growing, more affluent areas with greater insurance coverage. It’s an effective way for them to extend their service areas and feed into other available hospital services. Health care is about people, but health care is also big business.

The bottom line for Citrus Hills/Beverly Hills-area residents is that they’ll have a 24/7 health care facility closer than either of the county’s hospitals. Those with insurance coverage may receive educational information from their providers about how to determine whether a situation calls for a visit to a physician office, an urgent-care center or an emergency department. It’s all part of being a savvy health care consumer.

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