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St. David’s HealthCare has established stand-alone emergency care facilities in Bee Cave, Pflugerville and Bastrop. One man learned the hard way that confusing these facilities with urgent care clinics is a costly mistake.

Scott Stephens’ 7-year-old daughter had been complaining of a sore throat. Unsure where else to go on a Saturday, Stephens drove to Hill Country Galleria with his daughter after her soccer game and took her to the first place he saw that looked, to him, like an urgent care facility – St. David’s Emergency Care Center Bee Cave.

Stephens said the staff was cordial to him and his daughter, wheeling her off in a wheelchair and handing him some paperwork. After a physician checked his daughter’s throat and blood pressure and wrote her a prescription, Stephens was asked for an initial payment.

“If you look at the paperwork, we were there 12 minutes,” he said. “Upon checking out, they asked for an immediate payment of $150. I was expecting my co-pay, which is $20. I was like, ‘That’s ridiculous,’ but I paid it.”

A few days later, Stephens received a hospital bill and a physician’s bill in the mail. Stephens said he was shocked when the bills all added up to around $1,400. After insurance and a discount offered by the hospital, Stephens ended up having to pay more than $500 out of his pocket.

As Stephens learned, the facility was one of St. David’s stand-alone emergency rooms, equipped with an ambulance bay and other tools.

Mark Clayton, senior vice president at St. David’s HealthCare, said the facilities offer a higher standard of care than an urgent care facility does.

“We invest substantial capital to provide the community with a true emergency facility, prepared to care for patients with the most acute medical needs,” Clayton said in a statement. “Each time we treat a patient at that emergency center, we incur significant overhead and costs associated with that care. Therefore, it is to be expected that the cost to the patient would be different in an emergency facility than in the lower acuity setting of an urgent care clinic.”

Stephens admitted the papers he filled out at the center stated that it was an emergency care facility, but he said he didn’t feel the center was being transparent enough.

“Honestly, what would be nice is if when you see somebody coming in like my daughter who is in a soccer uniform, and she obviously wasn’t in a life or death situation, [you] say to her father, ‘We want to let you know this is an emergency room, and fees are different,’ just to make the person aware of that,” Stephens said. “Had somebody verbally told me that, I would have said, ‘Thank you very much, but we’re going to find the urgent care facility.’ ”

Stephens said that since the incident was reported on KXAN, he has become aware of other people who made the same mistake. However, Clayton said the majority of the responses have been positive.

“Patients have been overwhelmingly pleased with the emergency care provided at St. David’s Emergency Center Bee Cave by board-certified emergency room physicians and nurses with experience treating trauma-related injuries and medical emergencies,” Clayton said in the statement. “Our patients appreciate having a full-service emergency department close to home that, unlike an urgent care, is open 24 hours a day and is equipped with 12 multipurpose exam rooms, one of which is a trauma room; a CT scanner; a radiology unit; and a stat lab for prompt diagnosis confirmation.”

St. David’s ultimately offered Stephens a discount of $130. Clayton maintained that the facility tries to be as clear as possible about its intentions and fees.

“We regret that this gentleman had a less-than-positive experience with our emergency department,” Clayton said in the statement. “The ‘Emergency’ signs at each of our freestanding emergency centers are very large and specific. Additionally, our staff members work diligently to communicate to each patient — verbally and in writing — that this is a full-service emergency department.”

Stephens said he won’t be making the same mistake twice, and he has some advice for others seeking medical care.

“Be cognizant of where you are, and be aware that there’s a difference between emergency rooms and urgent-care facilities and doctor’s offices, and be aware of the associated ramifications of each,” he said. “Be aware of that, and make your decisions appropriately.”

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  1. Tammy Spooner says:

    I understand the need to get your child some care. However, we are very aware of the differences between EMERGENCY, Urgent Care and walk in medical clinic. Even facilities that can be both, indicate so. I think St. Davids was pretty lenient. Do READ!!!!
    Sure, it would help if they stated up front, but you do need to do a little legwork before you come in off the soccer field. I’ve had to use the facility for family and myself in EMERGENCY situations, which is the only time we go there. You will not find a better facility for that, as they have the radiology capability and the skills needed to get you to a safer place. As a parent, it’s your role to learn what is around and ask questions. …….. Lots of parents and locals will help you out here (and yes, it’s great advice to let others know). It’s hardly a news story……

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