Financial problems threaten Houston-area freestanding emergency rooms

HOUSTON – There are 300 freestanding emergency rooms across Texas, down just slightly from a year ago, according to the Texas Association of Freestanding Emergency Centers (TAFEC).

While business has been booming for almost a decade, one company located in Houston is now struggling.

Clara Chapa of Pearland said she's never used the facility near her, Neighbors ER, but knowing an emergency room is nearby brings her comfort.

“They’re really close, so if you need easy access rather than having to rush to the hospital,” Chapa explained.

LISTEN: Haley Hernandez talks with TAFEC

She prefers freestanding emergency rooms to a hospital because she said there's less paperwork and less waiting time.

“Maybe by 30 minutes, maybe if not faster, sooner than that,” she said.

Neighbors ER near her home is now facing financial trouble. The company just filed for bankruptcy.

In a statement they wrote:

"Neighbors Health LLC and Affiliates files voluntary petition under Chapter 11 of United States Bankruptcy Code.

"To expedite the sale of its Houston and non-Houston operations, Neighbors Health has filed a voluntary petition under Chapter 11 of the Federal Bankruptcy Code in the United States Bankruptcy Court for the Southern District of Texas, Houston Division.

"The company has sufficient liquidity to continue its normal business operations, including on-going employee, supplier and service provider obligations.

"Neighbors will continue to deliver extraordinary, 24/7, healthcare to patients from our board-certified physicians and medical staff al all of the 22 Free Standing Neighbors Emergency Centers."

Channel 2 Investigates first warned you about troubles among freestanding ERs last year when the largest company in Texas had stock prices plummet and also had to file for bankruptcy.

Bankruptcy wasn't the only challenge facing Adeptus. The company faced a lawsuit for deceptive business practices, accused of not being entirely open about the difference between urgent care and emergent.

It's a problem we've been tracking for years.

Differentiating free standing ERs from urgent care centers is a problem consumers often face. 

“They’re not connected to a hospital. A consumer is looking at that as potentially an urgent care facility when really it's an ER," said Memorial Hermann Urgent Care Vice President Jennifer Zimmerman.

She said urgent care centers are intended to fill the gap between when primary care physicians are unavailable (evenings, weekends) and it’s not an emergency issue.

The Texas Association of Freestanding Emergency Centers said their facilities may be more expensive than urgent care centers, but they are usually less expensive than going to a hospital.

Click here for information from TAFEC.

The trick is knowing what kind of care you need.

Trauma, heat stroke, trouble breathing should be treated at an emergency room.

Urgent care is a good choice for dehydration, stitches, and primary care complaints.

If the word "emergency" appears anywhere on the building, it is an ER. By law, an urgent care center cannot use the word "emergency" anywhere.