Atlantic Health System has agreed to a joint venture with MedExpress, a national urgent-care chain, making it a co-owner of 10 existing clinics and one under construction in New Jersey.
The current locations are in Bloomfield, Cedar Knolls, Hackettstown, Ledgewood, Linden, Lodi, Nutley, Springfield, Totowa and Watchung. A clinic is under construction in Rockaway, N.J.
The six-hospital system wanted to be involved in urgent care to provide a convenient, lower-cost alternative to the emergency room for its patients, said Amy Perry, chief executive of Atlantic's hospital division and senior vice president for integrated care delivery.
When Atlantic looked at the areas where it would want to open walk-in clinics, it found MedExpress would make a logical partner.
"We had an overlapping strategy," Perry said. "It led us to say, 'Instead of building a duplicate footprint, maybe there's an opportunity for collaboration."
Several local health systems have opted to partner with urgent-care chains rather than build their own network of extended-hours clinics. Northwell Health and GoHealth have opened 74 clinics since they first announced a partnership in 2014. CityMD has formed partnerships with Catholic Health Services of Long Island, Hackensack University Medical Center, Montefiore Health System and Mount Sinai Health System.
Perry acknowledged that urgent care has been viewed by some as a threat to primary care, but she said Atlantic's doctors could benefit from this agreement.
"We're very sensitive to being good partners with our physicians," she said. "We know that this is a service that our patients are currently using. Our feeling is if we have a partnership in this space, we would have a better chance of connecting patients back with primary care physicians."
MedExpress has nearly 300 clinics in 27 states, including 28 in New Jersey. Locations in the southern part of the state won't be part of the co-branded centers. The company was acquired by UnitedHealthcare's Optum in 2015.
The partnership, which allows for additional future locations, "will help ensure that patients receive the most appropriate care at the right setting at the right time," Gary Derk, vice president of MedExpress, said in a statement.