PORT ANGELES — Clallam County’s largest health care agencies have expanded their capacity over recent years, reducing wait times for new patients from months to weeks.
North Olympic Healthcare Network, the Jamestown Family Health Clinic and Olympic Medical Physicians all reported reduced wait times for new patients, with wait times ranging from about two weeks to a month.
“That’s pretty significant,” said Clallam County Health Officer Dr. Allison Unthank, who practices medicine at Jamestown.
“That’s a reasonable wait time to get in as a new patient and is better than a lot of places in the state. We have near-complete primary-care access out here, which is amazing for a county of our size.”
Dr. Michael Maxwell, CEO at NOHN, said that in 2016 the average wait time for new patients at the Federally Qualified Health Center were 270 days or more,” a period of about nine months.
By adding staff, that wait time has been reduced to 14 to 21 days, he said.
“In 2015, I remember very clearly that you just could not get a doctor and we were all very aware of this,” Maxwell said.
“We don’t have all the data yet to know how much need is out there, so I’m hesitant to say ‘mission accomplished’ but we’ve definitely made significant headway.”
In 2015, Family Medicine of Port Angeles transitioned into the nonprofit NOHN and has been expanding since. At the time the facility had six physicians and three advance practice clinicians.
That has been expanded to 12 physicians, eight advance practice clinicians and two residents. NOHN will have two more residents by the end of the month.
Maxwell said the lack of access to primary care providers in Clallam County was one of the top motivators for changing to a nonprofit.
NOHN now has 13,000 active patients. The clinic has taken in 5,500 new patients since the transition and continues to acquire about 120 patients per month.
He said the number of new patients signing up has remained fairly consistent.
“These are people who are not transferring from other doctors,” Maxwell said. “These are people who previously couldn’t get care.”
Olympic Medical Physicians Primary Care also has seen a significant decrease in wait times, said Dr. Josh Jones, Chief Physician Officer.
Jones said OMP has never had a wait list, but patients at times had to wait up to four to six months to see a doctor for an initial visit. That’s now down to about a month, he said.
He said OMP has added more than 5,000 new primary care patients in the last year and a half, a number that doesn’t include pediatric care. He said the primary care and pediatric clinics have seen more than 22,000 different patients over the last two years.
“We’ve added staff … and made a lot of boring behind-the-scenes process improvements, including smarter scheduling and better work flows to see more patients,” Jones said.
Jones described a “balancing act” between keeping wait times as short as possible without having too many providers.
“The ideal would be to have people get in right away whenever they want … but if we are in that situation that means we have more providers in the community than we need,” Jones said. “A month seems OK to me. I’d like it to be less than that, maybe a couple weeks.”
Wait times for new patients have also continued to decrease at the Jamestown Family Health Clinic, said Brent Simcosky. He said a major factor in their wait times dropping from several months to about a month was NOHN’s expansion.
“We were getting a lot of Port Angeles patients coming over here,” Simcosky said. “Because NOHN expanded to being a [Federally Qualified Health Center] and hiring new doctors, [patients] are able to get in there. They helped out everyone.”
Providers at Jamestown Family Health Clinic see between 200 and 250 patients per day, including up to 10 new patients per day.
Simcosky said that while the clinic hasn’t seen the same growth as NOHN, it is seeing an estimated 15 percent more patients than it was a couple years ago.
He said there are currently 17,000 patients in Jamestown Family Health Clinic’s database and that the clinic had more than 55,000 patient visits last year.
Simcosky said it became difficult for people to find a doctor in Clallam County during the Medicaid expansion following the implementation of the Affordable Care Act.
The Medicaid expansion led to a 56 percent reduction in the uninsured rate in Washington state between 2013 and 2017.
“The Medicaid expansion has been great for this county,” Simcosky said. “There were a lot of under-served people that couldn’t get health care.”
He believes the reduction in wait times shows that providers have caught up to the demand that was created when thousands gained health insurance, but he is concerned about growing populations in the future.
“The demand in the future won’t be under-covered patients; it’ll be people moving into the area,” he said.
Reporter Jesse Major can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 56250, or at [email protected].