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Super-sized clinic


If you’re a walk-in at the Mercy North Family Practice and Urgent Care Clinic in Ankeny on a Saturday morning, don’t expect to be waited on immediately unless you’re bleeding or have an another life-threatening condition. It’s not uncommon for 25 to 30 people to be standing outside waiting for the doors to open at 7 a.m., resulting in waits of two hours or more.

However, if you happen to need a CT scan or access to a specialist, you’ll be able to obtain those services in Ankeny rather than having to run over to Des Moines or West Des Moines. And if you do happen to be bleeding, you’ll be seen immediately in the urgent care clinic.

Since it opened in January, Mercy’s new all-in-one walk-in clinic has rapidly become busy, which the staff says is due to a combination of its highly visible location at 800 E. First St., as well as pent-up demand for services not offered before in the area.

“We really built the facility with the idea that we could serve the community with one-stop shopping,” said Dr. Stephen Nowak, one of eight family practice physicians at the clinic.

The family practice center is just one component on the 60,000-square-foot main floor, which also houses pediatric and urgent care clinics, an ambulatory surgery center with four operating rooms for elective minor surgeries, a pharmacy, a laboratory and a diagnostic imaging center. There is also a physical therapy center and a specialty physician practice that will rotate in Mercy specialists, such as dermatologists, ear-nose-and-throat specialists, gastroenterologists and others about once a week.

Upstairs, another 40,000 square feet, still mostly vacant, is expected to be filled by a number of private physician groups, both Mercy and non-Mercy affiliated, offering a range of specialties.

Prior to its move from its previous 7,000-square-foot building at 220 W. First St., the Mercy clinic averaged 5,500 patient visits a month. That number has grown by about 700 each month since January.

“With an urgent care clinic, it’s seen that we’re here for everyone now, not just open after-hours for our patients,” said Clinic Manager Marilyn Salter. “People feel that this is now a community clinic and that we’re here for everyone.”

Because it offers urgent care, the clinic appears to be drawing patients who would otherwise use a hospital emergency room or forgo care, Nowak said.

“I think there’s definitely a demand for same-day service, and it doesn’t seem that Ames is providing it, because we’re seeing people from Ames, Nevada, Story City and other communities around Ames,” he said.

And though there are still many patients without health coverage, “there are also a lot of people with insurance who don’t have doctors” that are being seen, Nowak said.

Mercy Medical Center’s senior planning executive says the hospital is closely monitoring waiting times at Mercy North, and will take steps to add to staff if necessary.

“We want to make sure our facilities are patient-friendly,” said Joe LeValley, Mercy’s senior vice president for planning and system development. “When you have surprising success, it takes a while to ramp up. Right now, clinic volumes are high everywhere. Part of our challenge is related to determining how much of it is flu-season-related. We are committed to growing the service if there is a need for that.”

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