Chicago's 1st Black-owned urgent care helps fill health care void on South Side

CHICAGO (WLS) -- The pandemic is keeping doctors busy at Chicago's first Black-owned urgent care facility.

A year and a half after opening, doctors are already talking about expanding.

Premier Urgent Care in the city's Hyde Park neighborhood isn't just surviving, it's thriving, as doctors there continue their quest to fill the health care void on the South Side.

While they are seeing success, it's also been challenging.

"A lot of people may say they have urgent care hours but they can't provide labs on site," said Dr. Michael McGee, President and CEO of Premier Urgent Care. "They can't provide x-rays on site. We're sort of like a mini ER."

McGee, along with emergency room doctors Reuben Rutland, a trauma surgeon, and Airron Richardson, opened the city's first Black-owned, fully comprehensive urgent care facility.

The doctors said their presence was making a difference but COVID-19 quickly halted the practice.

"People who had common injuries that they would normally get checked out, they just decided to ride it out because they thought they would contract the virus just by being here," Dr. Richardson said.

The doctors had to adjust so they could keep their promise to provide quality healthcare to Black people. A pledge that was even more important with the threat of neighborhood hospitals being closed.

To keep the doors open, they adopted rigorous cleaning protocols.

They focused on telemedicine and digital monitoring while becoming one of only two facilities on the South Side offering the rapid 15 minute COVID test.

Doctor Gregory Primus, who's in partnership with the urgent care, said the pandemic magnified the disparities and lack of access people in Black and brown neighborhoods experience.

"We want to become a facility that can provide a safe open venue for not only testing, but vaccinations; and so at the end of the day it hasn't changed what we were trying to do, it's accelerated it," Dr. Primus said.

Now, the doctors' commitment to bridge the gap is paying off.

Not only does the urgent care treat more patients now than they did before the pandemic, but it has also had to increase staffing by 50%.

"We want to save the world, one patient at a time," Dr. Rutland said.

The practice has always included youth outreach.

Both occupational medicine and integrative medicine have also been added to the urgent care's offerings in an effort to address the distrust of traditional medicine some Black people still have.

"So, we may not be as familiar with acupuncture or meditation, but we know about prayer and we know about spiritual and we know how those things affect our health," said Dr. Audrey Tanksley, who practices integrative medicine.

Partnerships with nearby hospitals, participation in clinical trials and even adding primary care physicians as early as next month are all in the works as these Black doctors remain determined to make an impact.

"We need to do better. We now need to be at the table. We need to know that medicine can actually save your life," Dr. McGee added.
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