State and city officials welcomed CareWell Urgent Care at 535 Centerville Road Friday morning as a small business that brings jobs and services to the area.
But, what is a small business now promises to be significantly larger in the next couple of years, according to the plans of company CEO and President Renee Lohman. The Warwick location, owned and operated by its medical director, Dr. Olivier Gherardi, is the second in a network of CareWell Urgent Care centers that Lohman projects will number 13 to 15 in two years. Ultimately, she is looking to open 30.
Gherardi, who has worked and lived in Rhode Island for the past 14 years, called the center “a step down from an [hospital] emergency room and a step up from a walk-in clinic.”
The center, which is open seven days a week for nearly 80 hours, always has a physician on staff and available without an appointment. The Warwick center is part of the Landmark Building, with close access to Route 95 and just off the road to the Toll Gate school complex. The first floor unit has a homey feel with a waiting area leading to a corridor and six examination rooms. One of the rooms is designed to accommodate trauma, such as cuts, bites or fractures. Other rooms are designed for examination and treatment of colds, flu, infections, rashes and skin issues. The center has its own x-ray equipment and can do certain tests on site.
The center comes with an investment on the part of both CareWell and Gherardi.
“I’ve been doing this for so long, it was time for me to start helming the ship,” said Gherardi.
CareWell is operated like a franchise, with Gherardi’s investment being backed by the company. He did not disclose the amount of his investment but made it clear he has a stake in the business and is banking on its success. Lohman said about $800,000 was spent to open the center.
She said, as a consultant, she has set up about 40 urgent care centers throughout the country. On a visit to Massachusetts, she noticed an absence of centers and made South Dennis on Cape Cod her first target for her own newly formed company.
“I decided to do it for myself, and I could see that it could be profitable,” she said.
Lohman found some believers. She looked for private equity funds and she has lined up the capital to execute her plan to open 30 centers. As for Rhode Island, she sees opening a second center in the East Bay area, possibly Barrington. Once a site and local physician investor is aboard, she is confident that a center can be operational in about 80 days. The Warwick center took about a year in planning.
Lohman said the break-even point for a center is 25 patients a day. The Warwick center had a soft opening on Nov. 17. Newspaper and web advertising commenced in the last 10 days or so and the center is now seeing about 12 patients daily.
Given the center’s location and exposure, Gherardi is confident the numbers will grow. According to its literature, CareWell promotes a comprehensive approach to patient care that focuses on personal, caring attention.
In brief remarks, Lt. Gov. Elizabeth Roberts talked of the advance of technology in the medical field and how it has enabled new business opportunities. She said the site is a “happening place” and added, “This is a great small business.”
Mayor Scott Avedisian called the center an example of how we need to “rethink” the delivery of health care. And he pointed to Warwick programs, including the Wilcox Health Center run by Comprehensive Community Action Program, West Bay Smiles also run by CCAP and how Warwick has been designated a Heart Safe Community.
“CareWell is a next step in how we rethink access to health care,” he said. He noted that a board certified physician is on staff all the time.
Representing the Central Rhode Island Chamber of Commerce, board member Steven Kitchin said “access to health care is critical” and he wished the center a long, healthy and prosperous venture.
The center is responsible for creating 12 new full- and part-time jobs.