HOOVEN, Ohio - In exam rooms one through four, you can get a quick strep test, X-ray that injured ankle or check your heart with an EKG. In rooms four through eight, your choices include tattoo removal, body sculpting and Botox treatments.
Three local emergency room veterans hope it’s a winning formula for their small-business startup, CincyHealth. It’s an urgent care center and medi-spa that opened in early November on State Route 128 near River Road in Hooven.
“The reception we’ve gotten from the community has been immense,” said Mario Riportella, a CincyHealth co-owner whose background includes 22 years as a Navy SEAL and four years as a physician assistant. “A lot of people appreciate a trusted health care resource so close to home.”
Urgent-care medicine is on the rise, thanks to health care reform, an aging population and rising health care costs and wait times. The owners invested about $700,000 in the venture. The business plan projects $2.8 million in annual revenue within five years, about half of it from the medi-spa side of the enterprise.
“I’ve never owned a business before,” said co-founder Sonia Hissett, a board-certified family nurse practitioner with more than a decade of emergency room experience. “With Obamacare, urgent care is actually coming back. They went out of style for a while. Now, they’re coming back to improve the access points for patients.”
The group’s third partner is Dr. Kevin Meyer, a board-certified emergency physician from Colerain Township.
The American Academy of Urgent Care Medicine estimates there are 9,300 standalone centers like CincyHealth nationwide and the number is growing by 50 to 100 clinics each year. Cincinnati has 65 locations, according to the Orlando, Fla.-based trade group.
Cost and convenience are the major factors driving the growth. Wait times are rising at emergency rooms and primary-care offices and the cost of E.R. visits are soaring. A study released Nov. 4 by the Center for Improving Value in Health Care showed Colorado patients spend $800 million each year on unnecessary visits to the emergency room. That’s because it costs five to eight times more to treat headaches, sore throats and acute bronchitis in a hospital emergency room compared to physician offices and urgent care centers.
Although it’s a low-margin business, urgent care centers have lots of room for growth, said Steve Sellars, CEO of Premier Urgent Health Care in Baton Rouge, La. and a board member for the Urgent Care Association of America.
“The Affordable Care Act has resulted in in 12 to 15 million people who did not have coverage before,” Sellars said. “Like most other urgent care operators, these (CincyHealth) providers are responding to an increasing demand for immediate treatment. They’ve found a need and they’re filling it.”
Make that multiple needs. CincyHealth seems to have a knack for finding niches in the local health care market. From its high-traffic location – across from a busy Kroger store on a street that draws 27,000 motorists a day – to its marketing campaigns aimed at companies, schools and consumers, CincyHealth has left few stones unturned in its quest for customers.
“I see a lot of practices offering other services to diversify their product line,” Sellars said. “Some of the things you’re mentioning, people pay cash for them. That can complement an urgent-care practice very well.”
Among they niches they’re mining:
Tattoo removal for military recruits. Hissett learned from recruiters that dozens of local candidates are turned away each month because of tattoos that violate military standards. No ink is permitted below the elbows or above the neck. Offensive and gang-related tattoos are also a no-no. So, Hissett crafted a marketing offer that gives recruits one free visit. It can take up to eight visits to remove a tattoo at $250 per visit.
Hissett also prospected for customers at local tattoo parlors.
"We’re going to do fades,” she said. “The tattoo artist will actually mark where a new tattoo is going and then I’ll go in and fade that area so they can do a new tattoo. They call it new canvas.”
Hissett is working with a friend to schedule Botox parties and she’s calling on bridal salons to offer body-sculpting and acne removal services.
Riportella is talking to the Three Rivers School District about a satellite office at Taylor High School, which is just around the corner from CincyHealth.
“The idea is that we’d put a nurse practitioner over there to cooperate with not take the place of a school nurse, just extend the services that can be rendered,” he said.
The partners at CincyHealth are talking to a chiropractor and an occupational medicine specialist about setting up shop on 128. And it’s knocked on dozens of doors in the 128 corridor, where construction companies, trucking firms and the Rivers Edge Indoor Sports complex generate a steady flow of bumps and bruises that can now be mended in Hooven.
“It just became very easy to see that we could be part of the fabric of this community,” Riportella said. “West Siders go everywhere for their care. Now, we have a place right here that can do all that. So, to have it here in your own back yard is huge.”