LMH signs deal to bring longtime walk-in medical clinic to south Iowa Street

photo by: Chad Lawhorn/Journal-World photo

LMH Health has reached a deal to take the vacant space in the former Pier 1 building on south Iowa Street to house a new primary care doctor's office.

A longtime Lawrence medical practice has been bought by LMH Health and soon will have a new home on south Iowa Street.

The nonprofit hospital announced today that it has finalized a deal with First Med, a nearly 30-year old walk-in clinic that operates just east of 23rd and Iowa streets. LMH will be moving First Med from its current home at 2323 Ridge Court into a renovated retail building at 3211 south Iowa St.

The location is the old Pier 1 building, which seems appropriate since one of those hanging wicker swings that Pier 1 was famous for certainly has created some medical emergencies. (Let’s just say the G-force tolerance of wicker is kind of low.)

We’ve been reporting for more than a year now that LMH had secured a lease for a portion of the south Iowa Street building. Remodeling work has been underway for awhile. But it was assumed that LMH would open a new practice in the location. Instead, it has struck a deal to buy an existing practice to fill the spot.

Amy Northrop, director of communications for LMH Health, said the reputation of First Med made it an attractive opportunity.

“It is a great primary care practice,” Northrop said. “We both reached out to each other to see what the opportunities may be. They are a known entity, and that can be really beneficial.”

Northrop said the business would continue to operate under the First Med name but also would be advertised as being affiliated with LMH Health.

As for the services offered, they largely will be the traditional primary care doctor’s office services, which range from cold and flu treatments and physicals to other conditions that you would normally make a doctor’s appointment for. The location will take appointments, but unlike many primary care offices, it also will promote a walk-in service.

“We’ve been interested in First Med’s model of expanded services, which includes providing walk-in appointments seven days per week,” Sheryle D’Amico, vice president of LMH’s physician division, said in a release. “LMH Health has been anticipating this type of service to better accommodate the needs of our patients.”

But the First Med location won’t be considered an urgent care center, Northrop said. Urgent care centers are smaller scale emergency rooms that can handle some cases like broken bones, emergency stitches and other such procedures. While some people have associated First Med with that type of provider, Northrop said it has become a smaller part of the practice’s business. She said LMH — which, of course, operates the lone full-scale emergency room in Lawrence — is considering getting into the urgent care business, but is not yet ready to do so.

“We definitely are looking at what the right time frame and strategies are on urgent care,” Northrop said. “But there is some insight needed on how we need to do that, and there are some great urgent care providers in town now. It is definitely something we are thinking about, but nothing we will move on in the near future.”

Drs. Ronald Burt and David Dunlap will continue to serve as the primary care doctors at First Med, LMH officials said.

Burt said in a release that LMH’s expertise in governmental and insurance regulations would give the First Med doctors time to “focus more on taking good care of our patients, which is the reason we went into medicine in the first place.”

Dunlap, who has been with First Med for 16 years, said in a release that First Med and LMH had a strong working relationship already, which made the partnership seem “very natural.”

LMH officials said they were excited about moving the practice to the south Iowa Street location, in part, because of a dearth of doctor’s offices south of 23rd Street.

“We chose the location on south Iowa because there is a gap in primary care in that area,” D’Amico said. “That area continues to grow, and it is important for LMH Health to ensure local care for that part of the community.”

LMH’s deal with First Med comes at a time when the nonprofit hospital has been hit with large financial losses related to the pandemic. The hospital was losing more than $1 million per week as it postponed elective surgeries and other nonemergency treatments during the height of the COVID-19 crisis. Prior to the pandemic, the hospital in 2019 had its worst financial year in recent memory, posting about a $16 million operating loss as the hospital saw payment terms from some of the area’s largest private insurers take a downward turn.

Given all that, I asked LMH officials about the financial terms of this deal, such as how much LMH paid First Med and whether LMH fully owns the practice or has simply become a partner in it. However, LMH did not release any of those details. Northrop cited a confidentially clause that LMH signed as part of the deal that prevents LMH from releasing such details to the public.


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