‘We are trying to save lives’: New black-owned urgent care fills void on South Side - July 1, 2019

Courtesy of The Chicago Tribune

Written by Darcel Rockett

Dr. Airron Richardson’s patient had waited hours in the ER with a piece of hearing aid stuck in her ear canal.

She finally walked into Richardson’s practice, where he removed the fragment in 10 minutes — a benefit of having an urgent care in the neighborhood.

South Side residents lacked such a facility until recently, according to the trio of black physicians who founded Premier Urgent Care & Occupational Health Center. Richardson along with Dr. Michael McGee (an emergency doctor) and Dr. Reuben Rutland (trauma surgeon) believe the facility is the first black-owned urgent care in the city. It opened in October 2018 at 1301 E. 47th St. and celebrated a grand opening June 15.

“Starting a business, you always want to make money, but you have to do things for the right reason to get your blessing on the other side,” McGee said. “For us, we are trying to save lives, so it was important for us to be able to start something that we can identify with in the community and give back to the community. If you know us more than two minutes — that’s one of our biggest concerns.”

Most urgent cares can treat ailments such as sprains, lacerations, colds and STDs, but Premier also offers a full-service on-site lab for same-day results, X-ray capabilities and drug testing for would-be employees, filling a need for area businesses.

“We’re not in competition with your primary care doctors, we’re not in competition with ERs,” Rutland said. “You know your body, and when it’s in crisis mode, that’s when you go to the emergency room. But when you have minor annoyances — I need to be seen by a doctor, but I don’t have time to wait — that’s when you go to an urgent care.”

McGee, Rutland and Richardson, colleagues at Methodist Hospitals in Gary and Merrillville, Ind., founded Premier after noticing insurance companies start to encourage urgent care visits over hospitals.

“It made sense that we all get together since we had the same desire to improve things, to try and help with urban health,” McGee said. “We want to see improvement in our urban environment. We were doing it already at Gary Methodist, working together to save lives. It just made sense that we do this venture.”

McGee said the goal is to be a one-stop shop, an approach they eventually hope to replicate elsewhere in the city.

The Rev. Finley Campbell is one of nearly 650 patients the doctors have seen since opening the facility. The Hyde Park resident went once for nasal congestion, another time for a bout of vertigo and, mostly recently, to refill a prescription. During his last visit, Campbell received a basic health check and took the doctor’s advice to get a pain injection before his trip to Europe.

“What started off as a refill ended up with me getting some much needed pain therapy. They’re very proactive in their health care,” said the 84-year-old. “This 47th Street facility is absolutely in the right place and they’re an excellent replacement for the old 47th Street clinic that was eliminated. It’s a wonderful opportunity to be a great service and hopefully they will make enough income to continue to be available.”

The team plans to give a percentage of Premier’s profits to their four-year-old nonprofit, Project Outreach and Prevention on Teen Violence Inc. (POP), which partially focuses on assisting youth of color who are interested in medicine.

POP holds seminars, provides college and career readiness opportunities, and encourages mentorship, connecting youth with medical professionals to shadow them at work and learn procedures like CPR.

Once in school or residency, Rutland said students often call with questions, looking for advice on current cases, or simply for reassurance.

“I didn’t have anybody that I could call when I was a medical student or resident to say: ‘Hey, this is what I’m going through. Is it right? I’m nervous about this.’ That’s why I don’t mind doing it,” Rutland said. “We want to show that you don’t have to be rich and you don’t have to be a genius to get through medical school. A lot of kids think that only other people can go into health careers, and I said, no — anyone can do this. This is something you can do. You can become a physician.”

Kenneth Furlough, 27 and a fourth-year student at Chicago Medical School, said he admires the Premier founders for opening the facility and for their community service and career guidance.

“People who look like you and have a background that can educate you in a way that will help you progress forward — that’s what it’s all about,” said Furlough, who is black. Leslie Amonoo, 33 and a third-year student at Chicago Medical School, agrees. The pair run a podcast about health equity, community development and financial literacy.

“To have people that you can relate to — that look like you and can understand some of the family situations you go through — is huge because you’re not always at ease when you go to other facilities with people who may not understand where you’re coming from, or your background, and how you grew up,” he said. “This urgent care is vital.”