By Kate Vogel
Mason Times staff writer
MASON — Sparrow Urgent Care, the sole urgent care provider in Mason, has recently cut out two hours of service each day.This change amounts to 30 days of service a year that is lost from the Mason community. Sparrow representative John Foren said this change was made to create more efficient service for the patients. Sparrow Urgent Care, 800 E. Columbia St., is the closest urgent care provider for Mason residents.
Mason City Administrator Martin Colburn said, “[Mason residents] are very frustrated with Sparrow that they would close and lock the doors on us. People have seen the reduction of services to our community.”
Sparrow Health’s announced the reduction in an Oct. 19 news release that read, “As of Nov. 6, both locations [Mason and Okemos] will be open from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. to provide more continuity and consistency for patients. As always, Sparrow Urgent Care is open 365 days a year providing non-life threatening urgent care to walk-in patients.”
Foren said that the hours were reduced because, “8-9 a.m. and 9-10 p.m. was when the lowest volume of patients were coming in. It also served as a side staffing issue that allowed us to work the same hours as Okemos Urgent Care and shift workers from one to another.”
In response to the change in hours, Colburn wrote a letter to the Sparrow Chief Operating Officer Joseph Ruth on Nov. 3 which read, “Sparrow Hospital and you seem to be abandoning the city of Mason.”
Mason Mayor Leon Clark said, “I think that Sparrow has decided to turn its back on the city of Mason and has done a huge disservice to Mason. People won’t be able to get care in an emergency.”
By cutting 2 hours a day, 365 days a year, Mason loses 30 days of service a year from Mason Urgent Care. Colburn said, “We just lost a month of service from Sparrow with this stroke of the pen.”
Foren replied, “We would like to be open 24 hours a day, but we need to look at what would be the most efficient hours and these hours fit that criteria.”
Mason residents are also frustrated with the lack of doctors available at Sparrow Urgent Care in Mason.
“My daughter took my grandson there,” Clark said. “He needed stitches and there were no doctors there. This occurred during the new hours, but they were turning people away because they didn’t have a doctor available. This has happened a couple of times.”
Colburn describes a similar event: “I took an injured firefighter to their doors… two years ago and they were locked. I found my way in through the back way and they couldn’t service our injured firefighter because no doctor showed up that day.”
Foren said that these new hours will hopefully solve this problem because they will now have the ability to transfer doctors from Okemos to Mason when needed.
While Sparrow has shortened the hours at Mason Urgent Care, it has recently expanded service to other surrounding areas such as Ionia and St John’s. Compared to Mason, both cities have grown significantly less in the past decade, according to the U.S. Census Bureau and as shown in the chart.
“We are one of the very few growing cities in Michigan,” Colburn said. “My community grew by over 15 percent and we’re losing service. Recently [Sparrow] has reached their services out to other communities. [Mason] is a growing area and [Sparrow] needs to look at not only continuing but growing services.”
Clark said, “If we saw the trend going this way in other communities [to eliminate hours] we could say that it’s a sign of the economy. When we look at other communities like Ionia, they are actually adding on to the building and extending hours. It kind of makes you wonder what exactly [Sparrow’s] reasoning is.”
Sparrow responded that there is no competition within the communities it services.
“We are the predominant health care institution in Mason,” Foren said. “In recent years we’ve really heightened our community affiliations because it’s important for us to provide for those communities. We have extended our reach to many communities and it’s not a question of favoring one over the other. The fact that we reduced the hours at Mason urgent care doesn’t indicate a shortchanging of Mason. It isn’t a competition here.”
When Mason Urgent Care is not open, Mason residents are transported to Sparrow Hospital in Lansing, 1215 E. Michigan Ave., about 15 miles from Mason.
Foren said, “There is distance between a lot of our outlying communities but we pride ourselves on our top emergency resources. We have the facilities to handle emergencies and we can deliver care very quickly. I know there is a distance between Lansing but it’s the quality of our care that makes the real difference.”
Some Mason residents are concerned about the distance from Mason to Lansing in the case of a medical emergency.
“For someone like me who lives 15 minutes from the urgent care and then another 20 or so from Sparrow [the distance] would cause a problem in the case of an emergency,” Dylan Fitchett, 21, of Mason said. “The point of the urgent cares is to provide convenience to small towns … so cutting back on the hours is a bad decision.”
Foren said that Sparrow has not discussed restoring the original hours of 8 a.m. to 10 p.m.
“We want to have a positive dialogue with Mason residents and leaders,” Foren said. “If residents complain and want change, we want to maintain a positive dialogue if they are concerned. If residents have issues, we will certainly listen to them and maintain the lines of communication.”
Colburn said, “We need the reality of services to our citizenry and it’s the fight worth fighting. We certainly feel as though we are being taken for granted. My professional opinion of it is that the citizens of Mason deserve better.”