Somerville Hospital is replacing its emergency room with an urgent care clinic

The change is expected to lower costs for patients and better serve the community, officials said.

SOMERVILLE, MA - 12/05/2018:  A view of the emergency entrance at Somerville Hospital, officials gave a tour of the changes they've made to lighting, signage, and surveillance following the death of Laura Levis, a 34-year-old woman who was locked outside the hospital emergency room in 2016.  ( David L Ryan/Globe Staff ) SECTION: BUSINESS  TOPIC xxsomerville
–David L. Ryan / The Boston Globe

Somerville Hospital’s emergency department is closing. An urgent care clinic will replace it.

Cambridge Health Alliance’s board of trustees voted Tuesday to approve a plan that includes converting the Somerville Emergency Department to an urgent care facility. The clinic is expected to open in spring 2020.

The hospital made national news in 2016 when 34-year-old Laura Levis suffered a fatal asthma attack outside its emergency room’s locked doors. A CHA spokesperson, David Cecere, said the newly announced changes are not related to Levis’s death.

A statement from the Cambridge Health Alliance said the new urgent care center will better meet the needs of the Somerville community. It said a study found most residents use the Somerville emergency room for care closer to an urgent care level.

Advertisement

The clinic will treat more minor injuries and illnesses that are not serious enough to warrant an emergency room visit. Cecere said the clinic’s level of care will be higher than that of a standard urgent care facility because the emergency department staff will operate it.

The renovation will be phased so the emergency room can remain open, he said. The emergency department is open 24/7, but the clinic will only be open 9 a.m. to 9 p.m.

State data from 2015 found more than 40 percent of Massachusetts’s emergency room visits were avoidable, and nearly 70 percent of those avoidable visits happened between 8 a.m. and 8 p.m. A Health Policy Commission report recommended connecting patients with facilities such as urgent care clinics to drive down avoidable visits.

However, a 2017 Cambridge Health Alliance report found that many Somerville residents did not understand the difference between emergency and urgent care.

Though national emergency care is on the rise, the Cambridge Health Alliance’s statement said Somerville emergency room visits have declined 36 percent over the last decade. Many residents go to the Cambridge ED instead of the Somerville ED, according to Cecere. The two hospitals are about 10 minutes apart by car.

The statement called the new clinic a “lower-cost option to ED for many health needs” where all will be welcomed “regardless of ability to pay.”

Advertisement

Cecere said urgent care visits will be billed like primary care or outpatient visits, making them less expensive than emergency room trips.

The plan that was approved Tuesday also includes renovating the Central Street Care Center, relocating the Teen Care Center, and constructing a new Care Center in Union Square.

“This is not a financially driven decision but one that we believe better meets the needs of the community,” the Cambridge Health Alliance statement read.