Two doctors teaming up to open a Sebastopol urgent care this August

By Camille Escovedo, Staff Writer, SoCoNews, July 27, 2021

sebastopol urgent care

Dr. Libby Flower and Dr. Kathleen Whisman plan to open their concierge care practices and an urgent care in Sebastopol on Aug. 23, to the left of Sonoma Specialty Hospital, though unaffiliated. To the right of the hospital is where its Progressive Urgent Care is planned to reopen. (Photo courtesy Access Health Sebastopol)

A week before Dr. Libby Flower returned from Roseville with a U-Haul of medical equipment, the building that will soon house two primary cares and an urgent care in Sebastopol was practically empty. On July 21, she and Dr. Kathleen Whisman rolled out an ornate carpet where patients will wait for their appointments.

The two doctors are preparing to open two primary care practices and an urgent care in Sebastopol on Aug. 23, in an effort to offer local communities more accessible and personal medical attention.

Their building sits to the left of Sonoma Specialty Hospital (SSH) on Petaluma Avenue, though they are unaffiliated. On the other side of the hospital, its managing operator American Advanced Management Group is preparing to reopen SSH’s Progressive Urgent Care that closed in March 2020, which had been the only urgent care in west county.

Sebastopol Urgent Care will be open seven days a week, from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday to Friday and 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. on weekends as they get a better sense of the demand, Flower said.

Sebastopol Urgent Care, Whisman’s Compassionate Concierge Care and Flower’s Bohemian Concierge Care will be managed by Access Health Sebastopol. Flower said the primary care practices plan to offer labs, X-rays, physicals, treatments for cuts and sprains, sometimes infusions, initial orthopedic care and testing and treating for influenza and other issues.

“We want to be full-service and we want to be able to supply top-line intensive medicine. We’re not an emergency room, but we’re going to be a lot closer to emergency medicine than a lot of urgent cares around,” she said.

She added they advise people experiencing a heart attack or stroke to call 911 from their homes to get the quickest care.

Their efforts began in April with hiring consultants. Now the doctors have an office manager, a lead medical assistant and an employee to staff the front office, Whisman said.

According to Flower, they hope to expand to a staff of eight to 10 employees, and eventually a registered nurse who can perform IVs.

As a temporary doctor with Healdsburg Physicians Group, where Whisman still works, Flower said the two got to talking about the corporatization of medicine, doing paperwork into the mid-evenings.

“I was seeing this model of care that is being replicated over and over again,” she said, among big health care providers like Sutter. “They want volume out of their physicians.”

Flower said practices like cycling through over a dozen patients a day for roughly 15-minute sessions doesn’t work well for patients who may have multiple medical issues, psychiatric conditions or may be experiencing food and housing insecurity.

“And I can’t honestly say I feel like I can do that in 15 minutes properly — you need that connection. The doctor-patient connection is a sacred thing that can’t be developed in 15 minutes,” Flower said.

Their chosen alternative, she said, is to limit their personal concierge practices to accepting under 500 members so that they can provide 10 patients a day with the time and attention they need instead of rushing through 20 patients.

“You need your patient’s trust, and for you to be an effective physician, you need to spend time with the patient and look into their eyes and talk to them from your heart and make them understand that their health and safety is your foremost concern,” Flower said.

Whisman added that she felt her patients were her boss, not any corporations during her decades of private practice, “I work for them. I don’t work for someone else.”

According to Flower, friends in Sebastopol emboldened her and offered their support for the effort to set up an urgent care in Sebastopol.

“I have a very long history with what was the Palm Drive Hospital,” she said. Flower was most recently the director of the Progressive Urgent Care with Sonoma Specialty Hospital before unceremoniously losing her job when it was abruptly shut down in March, she said.

Previously, the hospital itself had become a long-term acute care facility.

“Medicine has shriveled on the vine here. Our hospital, which is the hub of a medical community, has had a lot of problems,” Flower said. “And because when the hospital started to really tank, it took the whole medical community with it.”

According to Flower, the primary cares and urgent care will provide another stop where west county residents can access medical care when they may otherwise need to drive out to Santa Rosa, wait for what may be a brief visit and then commute back.

“What’s your time worth, you know? That’s not the kind of care they’re going to get here,” she said.

Part of the process of establishing their facilities is credentialing with insurance companies and finding which ones will accept them as in-network providers or out-of-network providers — or won’t accept them at all, meaning the patient would have to cover the whole cost.

“And then I see it also as a convenience factor. Maybe you already have your Kaiser insurance,” Whisman said.

She continued, “But unfortunately your 3-year-old has a screaming earache at 5 p.m. at night, and you can come here to the urgent care and get your ear checked and pay our cash pay, which we’re hoping to be equivalent to whatever your copay is if you went into Santa Rosa to the ER.”

Flower said she believes they’ll be accepted by 60% to 70% of the insurances they applied to as an in-network provider.

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