Progressive Urgent Care partially reopens in Sebastopol

By Camille Escovedo, Staff Writer, SoCoNews, November 22, 2021

hospital staff

Dr. Gurpreet Singh, president of the American Advanced Management Group, and Dr. Pankaj Malhotra, a lead provider at Progressive Urgent Care, are pictured on the Nov. 12, 2021. (Photo Camille Escovedo)

Progressive Urgent Care Sebastopol broke its 20-month closure Friday, Nov. 12, opening its doors around the corner from Sonoma Specialty Hospital (SSH) on Palm Avenue. The facility previously located inside SSH closed when COVID-19 hit locally in March 2020.

The clinic, to be open Monday through Sunday from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m., accepts all insurances and uninsured patients, according to Dr. Pankaj Malhotra, one of the urgent care’s lead providers.

The urgent care’s website states it offers treatment for fractures, sprains, lacerations, animal and insect bites, ear and sinus infections, allergies, asthma, stomach viruses, as well as COVID-19 testing with results in 15 minutes.

However, it isn’t expected to be fully operational for in-person services until January. Some of its services, like minor suturing and possibly sprains, won’t be available before then, Malhotra said. For now, Progressive Urgent Care Sebastopol will be primarily using telemedicine and Zoom, treating patients in person as needed.

For example, someone with an earache may be asked over a virtual visit to come to the clinic for a closer look if a provider is present, with care taken to prevent potential COVID-19 transmission within the urgent care, according to Malhotra.

“It’s really been a challenge to get the staffing,” Malhotra said, who stated he and his wife, Dr. Shagun Bagga, are the only physicians connected to the urgent care so far. The search for local medical providers continues so that Progressive Urgent Care Sebastopol can have coverage each day of the week.

“We had a setback. A provider who was supposed to be starting with us full-time had a medical emergency, and he had to go on medical leave for an indefinite period of time last week, so in the meanwhile, we are planning to start with the tele services until we get the group back together and up and running,” Malhotra said, adding the physician planned to move to the local area and call it home.

Now that the urgent care is open more people have come through the doors interested in working there, said Dr. Gurpreet Singh, president of the American Advanced Management Group (AAMG) that bought the hospital now known as SSH.

“The main thing here is the community needed an urgent care that would be readily accessible. The urgent care in the hospital was more accessible to the ambulance but not the walk-in patients who have to park their car all the way and then walk,” he said.

Less than half a mile away from the clinic is Sebastopol Urgent Care, run by primary care physicians Dr. Kathleen Whisman and Dr. Libby Flower. They opened the clinic on Aug. 28 of this year, becoming west county’s only urgent care in the absence of SSH’s Progressive Urgent Care.

Their efforts to open Sebastopol Urgent Care started with hiring consultants in April, according to Flower. Flower served as the director of Progressive Urgent Care prior to its initial closure.

Progressive Urgent Care Sebastopol offers online registration for patients through a tool called ZipPASS that can lower the wait time, per the urgent care’s website. Malhotra said, “Our goal is that patients should be in and out within an hour, from stepping in the door, registering, being seen by a provider, being out in under an hour. And it includes walk-ins.”

The urgent care has a staff of around eight employees, but to be fully operational, they’re looking to staff about 15 people in total, Singh said. According to Malhotra, they mostly need physicians and medical assistants, proving difficult as they find more people are retiring from the medical field in these times.

In June, Singh said pandemic conditions and the decision to reopen Progressive Urgent Care outside the hospital lengthened its reopening process. The hospital’s urgent care closure and relocation was to protect long-term acute care patients from COVID-19 exposure, he had said.

When the Palm Drive Health Care District (PDHCD) sold the hospital to AAMG and SSH, the sale included a promissory note dated for 2019 with stipulations for its use that SSH agreed to follow or pay the district $1.2 million.

The note reads that $1.2 million and accrued interest that hadn’t been paid yet would come “immediately due and payable” if the property was transferred, sold, refinanced or used for anything besides a long or short-term acute care with an urgent care or emergency department in the next 10 years.

After the urgent care closed, an attorney notified Singh and then-SSH chief executive officer Matt Salas in June 2020 that SSH was in breach of the promissory note’s obligation to maintain the urgent care. The attorney’s letter on behalf of PDHCD stated SSH had 60 days to fix the breach or immediately owe $1.2 million for the violation.

The health care district dissolved in that very time frame, with the County of Sonoma taking on the district’s debts, liabilities, tax authority, monies and records. The county notified Singh in August 2020 that SSH had until the end of the month to cure the breach or pay.

Since then, the county appears to have taken a different approach. County communications manager Paul Gullixson stated in June of 2021 that the county believes there has been a good faith effort to reopen the clinic and comply.

Former PDHCD board member Jim Horn shared documentation with SoCoNews of recent email correspondence with Deputy County Administrator Peter Bruland, who informed Horn that he was now handling Palm Drive and Sonoma Specialty Hospital for the county.

Bruland told Horn on Oct. 29 that the county is “currently actively pursuing available avenues and, given the excessive timeframe over which this issue has dragged out, will look at verified reopening as the only way to avoid calling the note.”

More recently, on Nov. 8, Bruland said that, “the county is pursuing the procedure laid out in the note to ensure compliance. This includes the note becoming due before the end of the calendar year in the event that Sonoma Specialty Hospital is not in compliance with the terms.”

“We received notice of the urgent care facility’s reopening on Friday and are currently assessing whether the level of care being offered complies with the terms of the note,” Bruland wrote in an email to SoCoNews on Nov. 17.

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