Sequim walk-in clinic to shutter soon

SEQUIM — With a heavy heart, Bridgett Bell Kraft is shutting down the clinic she opened here five years ago.

Primary Care Sequim, in the plaza at 520 N. Fifth Ave., will close its doors at 3 p.m. March 7.

“I really believed that we could provide real, patient-centered care. And I think to a large degree, we’ve succeeded,” Bell Kraft, an advanced registered nurse practitioner, said Friday.

“But the reimbursement issues have really killed us.”

Since Primary Care Sequim began offering walk-in urgent care in late 2006, 18,500 patients have visited the clinic, Bell Kraft said.

Many of those are on Medicare or Medicaid, which pay lower reimbursements than private insurance carriers.

Slow payments

And even the payments from private insurers come slowly, Bell Kraft said — too slowly for the clinic to make ends meet.

Compounding the problem, she added, is the fact that nurse practitioners receive lower reimbursements than physicians.

Bell Kraft could increase the number of patients she sees in a day to bring in more revenue, but that would be contrary to her values.

Already, she sees 18 to 22 patients per day and is known for carefully interviewing each one, offering information about as many treatment options as she can think of and even giving out her personal cellphone number.

“We were committed to educating patients,” Bell Kraft said of her 10-member staff.

She laid off all but a skeleton crew a little more than a week ago.

“It’s sad,” practice manager Barbara Barnes said just before opening the clinic doors Friday morning.

“Bridgett has a great following. People thought, ‘She will always be there to take care of me.’

“What has been rewarding is watching her interact with patients, watching how much she cares for them.”

Bell Kraft doesn’t yet know what she will do next as a nurse practitioner.

She does know she must now care for her two teenage daughters; for her husband, Jerry Kraft; and for herself.

“My family has been unbelievably supportive. They have understood my working on the weekends and taking calls all the time,” Bell Kraft said, because “they also believe people should be taken care of kindly, like an old-fashioned family doctor [would do].”

Bell Kraft knows many of her patients, perhaps especially those suffering from chronic pain, will have trouble finding new primary care providers.

New patients

Many of the doctors in Sequim and Port Angeles will not take on new patients, said Bell Kraft, who has cared for, and monitored “very closely,” dozens of people with chronic pain.

Their difficulty in finding doctors is “a huge problem,” she said.

The nurse practitioner lamented the lack of available primary care and dental care in Clallam County, where people without health insurance must all too frequently go without.

“We are in the first world. We should not be having third-world health care,” she said.

“I can’t do it all,” Bell Kraft added.

“It’s time to stop trying.”

Bell Kraft was educated at Syracuse University and the University of Washington and is certified in adult primary care and as a family nurse practitioner. She practiced as a nurse in Saudi Arabia for 14 years.

After she moved to the North Olympic Peninsula in 2004, she worked at CliniCare, the urgent-care center at 621 E. Front St. in Port Angeles, for two years.

David Kanters, also a nurse practitioner, closed that clinic in October 2010, saying insurance carriers, and the related bureaucracy, had burned him out.

He reopened CliniCare last August with a new strategy — he bills his patients directly at the time of service.

Most major credit cards are accepted.

Kanters also bolstered his practice by bringing nurse practitioner Deb Wheeler on board in January.

It’s been busy, but “a lot of people don’t realize we’re open again,” said Jessica Dougherty, CliniCare’s medical office assistant.

“We are happy to be here,” she added.

CliniCare is open from 9 a.m. until 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday.

As for Primary Care Sequim, the walk-in clinic will be open from 9 a.m. until 3 p.m. weekdays until March 7.

The office can be reached at 360-582-1200.

________

Features Editor Diane Urbani de la Paz can be reached at 360-417-3550 or at diane.urbani@peninsuladailynews.com.

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