Apparently, Dr. H. William Fegley decided he couldn't beat his competition. So he's joined them, creating a partnership that will challenge not-for-profit Indiana Regional Medical Center for patients and revenue.
On Tuesday, Fegley and his new partners, West Virginia-based MedExpress Urgent Care, announced that Fegley has closed his practice and will begin treating patients as part of the MedExpress team, which began accepting patients at its new White Township office Tuesday.
MedExpress representatives said Fegley was unavailable for an interview, but in a statement announcing his decision, he said he will be seeing patients several days a week at his new office, which is directly across Oakland Avenue from his former practice.
"I have been proud to serve the people of this great community for so long. I am equally proud to now be associated with MedExpress and look forward to continuing my relationship with the people of Indiana," Fegley said.
MedExpress declined to discuss terms of the arrangement with Fegley.
A sign on Fegley's old office, the Walk-In Medical Care Office, said his practice and MedExpress had merged and that patient records had been transferred to across the street.
The status of Fegley's staff is unclear.
IRMC officials said staffers have reached out to the hospital's human resources department. And MedExpress said it is conducting interviews with Fegley's staff and plans to offer positions to those who are interested and who meet its high level of standards and expectations for its employees.
Fegley's old practice and MedExpress, a for-profit chain with a presence in six states, are both considered urgent care centers, a type of medical practice that deals in treatment of one-time injuries and illnesses, such as a sprained ankle or a sinus infection.
They generally differ from traditional family doctors in that they don't require appointments, are open longer and later during the week, and there is no long-term, standing relationship between the treating physician and patient. MedExpress is open 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily.
Fegley has been practicing urgent care medicine out of his Indiana Commons office since 2007. MedExpress' Indiana office is its 45th in Pennsylvania. The other closest locations are in Greensburg, Latrobe and Johnstown.
IRMC officials said they are not surprised Fegley chose to join MedExpress. In fact, two weeks ago, hospital CEO Steve Wolfe told the Gazette he believed the Indiana market is too small to support three such facilities -- the hospital is planning to open one -- and figured one would likely fall by the way side.
Hospital spokesman Mark Richards said there had been some preliminary discussion with Fegley on working together, but nothing ever materialized.
MedExpress' decision to establish a presence here is part of the reason IRMC officials have committed to opening a branded urgent care center of its own, URGI-Care at IRMC, on the hospital's campus.
It is to begin accepting patients on Oct. 15 and will be the hospital's second such facility. Its first opened in 2009 along Old Route 22 in Burrell Township.
Richards said MedExpress poses the hospital's first significant local competition. And the worry for hospital officials is that MedExpress, which is owned in part by the region's predominant insurer, Highmark, will become a sort of entry portal for the Highmark system.
Highmark is transforming itself into both an insurer and a health care provider to compete against rival UPMC. To that end, it acquired the West Penn Allegheny Health System and is ramping up operations there.
But fears that MedExpress is somehow looking to crush IRMC are unfounded, said Dean Hatcher, MedExpress' senior vice president of operations.
"They should not feel threatened," said Hatcher. "We look forward to working collaboratively with Indiana Regional Medical Center to use their network of (specialists and primary care physicians)."
Hatcher said there will be occasions when patients' needs will exceed the capabilities of the Indiana office, and MedExpress will gladly refer them to IRMC for continued treatment.
Or, for that matter, wherever else they'd like to go.
He said MedExpress takes a "concierge" approach to medicine, being there for patients when they need treatment and connecting them with those who can help on the occasions MedExpress can't.
"It's all about patient choice. That is paramount with MedExpress," he said. "We put their needs first."