South County Hospital renames Urgent Care clinics after lawsuit

South County Health's Express Care facility in East Greenwich. (credit: South County Health)

SOUTH KINGSTOWN, R.I. (WPRI) – South County Hospital’s parent company has renamed its two walk-in health clinics in the wake of a lawsuit over a woman who died after being treated at one of them.

Jamie DelVecchio, a spokeswoman for South County Heath, confirmed the company has changed the name of its clinics in East Greenwich and Westerly from Urgent Care to Express Care. She declined to specify the legal dispute that triggered the change.

A review of court records by Eyewitness News uncovered a lawsuit filed against South County Heath in August 2014 over the death of a South Kingstown woman.

The suit alleged that the woman failed to receive proper treatment when she showed up at a South County Urgent Care facility complaining of chest pain, only to be discharged with a diagnosis of acid reflux, in September 2013. She was found dead from heart complications the next day.

The suit contended that South County Health violated the federal Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act by failing to conduct a full screening of her condition.

U.S. District Chief Judge William Smith allowed the suit to move forward last November, noting the U.S. Centers for Medicaid and Medicare Services has warned walk-in clinics may be “perceived by an individual as appropriate places to go for emergency care.”

DelVecchio said the suit has since been resolved, and the walk-in clinics are now called Express Care. “The name was changed in order to ease any confusion that may have existed as to the function and purpose of the walk-in care centers,” she said, noting its website provides an explanation of the difference between Express Care and the emergency room.

In his ruling last fall, Smith expressed concern about whether disclosures on websites are enough.

“Someone driving by the clinic with an emergency medical need … would not be able to make this distinction based on the signage, and certainly cannot be expected to check the website before walking in with chest pain,” the judge wrote. “There is no evidence that [South County Health] made patients aware that the Urgent/Walk-in Care was not an appropriate place to go for emergency care anywhere other than the website.”

The walk-in clinics are located in South County Health’s two Medical & Wellness Centers. The East Greenwich center opened in 2009, and the Westerly one followed last year. The two clinics had 14,877 visits in 2015-16, up from 11,529 the prior year, according to the company.

Ted Nesi (tnesi@wpri.com) covers politics and the economy for WPRI.com. He writes Nesi’s Notes on Saturdays and hosts Executive Suite. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook