YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – In four years, QuickMed Urgent Care has expanded to nine sites across northeastern Ohio – a feat that Lena Esmail didn’t imagine possible when she began the urgent-care company.
“I’ve always been very tenacious and I don’t take ‘No’ for an answer,” Esmail says. She is the CEO of QuickMed and a nurse practitioner. “But I never imagined that I would have been able to scale a simple model to this extent in such a short amount of time.”
Esmail was working in the emergency department of St. Elizabeth Youngstown Hospital when she noticed an influx of patients after the closing of Northside Regional Medical Center. Most of the patients didn’t need emergency care.
“There weren’t enough community outpatient walk-in clinics that can meet the needs of the community. So they were inappropriately using the emergency department for non-emergency things,” Esmail says.
This can slow wait times as well as take away emergency services from those who need them, Esmail says.
The closing of Northside left a void on Youngstown’s North Side and Liberty Township. She opened the flagship QuickMed site a stone’s throw away from the former hospital to help close the gap in health equity in the Mahoning Valley.
“We started opening urgent cares wherever we saw there was an inequity of care that we needed to address,” Esmail says.
The World Health Organization defines health inequity as systematic differences in the health statuses of different population groups. These inequities have significant social and economic costs to both individuals and societies.
There is a lack of primary care and gynecological providers in the Mahoning Valley, Esmail says. Patients use ERs for simple services, she says, like prescription refills solely because no other nearby option exists. QuickMed’s mission is to fill the gap and to provide primary care and even gynecological walk-in services.
“First and foremost, just having a place to be able to walk into to access care seven days a week is huge. A lot of times the people in this community might not be aware of what sort of health care needs that they’re in need of,” Esmail says. “Just being able to access a provider to ask those questions and being able to receive care the same day is huge.”
COVID-19 revealed and exacerbated existing disparities in health care, especially in gynecological and primary care. Gynecological priorities shifted to pregnant women, Esmail says, and primary care clinics closed or shrank availability. QuickMed, she says, became the “hero to those who needed refills to their medications or those that had occupational health needs.”
SERVING HER COMMUNITY
Esmail is a firm believer that “if you can’t make a change where you start, you can’t make a change anywhere.” That belief led her to take her extensive education back to the Mahoning Valley to open QuickMed. She now lives here with her husband and her six children.
“My heart is here. I grew up on the North Side. I worked at almost every place on Belmont Avenue you can imagine and to be able to see my impact in the curbing of the inequity in care here is amazing,” she says.
Esmail graduated from Liberty High School in 2004 and holds baccalaureates in nursing and biology from Youngstown State University, a master’s in nursing from Ursuline College, a post-master’s certificate in nursing with a specialty in critical care at YSU and a doctorate in nursing practice from Kent State University.
Esmail was named as one of YSU’s Bitonte College of Health and Human Services alumni of the year. She considers the honor a high form of flattery because of how much she credits her success to the university.
“I directly correlate my success and the way that I became a steward of the community to my relationship with my professors and with my community through Youngstown State University,” Esmail says. “YSU is in the heart of Youngstown. It is a university that represents what the city stands for and what the Valley stands for. So, being able to be honored in that capacity is very humbling to me.”
PRESENT AND FUTURE
QuickMed now operates clinics in Akron, Austintown, Columbiana, Cortland, Medina, Strongsville, Warren, Ravenna and the original site in Liberty. Esmail says a 10th clinic should open on Glenwood Avenue in Youngstown in the next two months. She describes this clinic as her “passion project. We’re opening it in the center of the need for equity and care in Youngstown that can facilitate the needs of the children and the residents when school is out of session.”
Esmail also is trying to establish QuickMed as a touchpoint between patients and more specialized care, she says. Referrals are needed for patients to seek specialist care and Esmail says that QuickMed isn’t always the final destination for care. Rather it is the gatekeeper for additional services.
The urgent-care company is also expanding its serv-ices to local school districts to fill yet another need in the community.
QuickMed partnered with the Youngstown City School District in 2020 to offer medical clinics at East and Chaney high schools. In 2021, the program expanded to the Trumbull County Career and Technical Center and Crestview Local School District.
The director of finance at QuickMed, Amber Bodrick, oversaw a $2 million mixed grant from the Ohio Department of Education and Ohio Department of Health to aid QuickMed’s expansion into the schools. Bodrick says QuickMed is the only for-profit organization that received an award, which she calls a notable accomplishment.
The American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 and the Governor’s Emergency Education Relief fund supplied the grant monies. The funding allowed the program to grow even more and QuickMed announced partnerships with Salem City and Liberty Local school districts to establish on-campus medical clinics in June.
The clinics offer medical, dental, mental health, audiology and ophthalmology services. Students, staff and families all have access to the clinics during school hours. Uninsured students are offered free medical services and no insurance is required for additional family members.
Lauren Borden, director of growth and development, says the next step for QuickMed is to duplicate the Mahoning Valley school clinic model in the Cleveland/Akron area.
The area is experiencing a similar shortage of primary and urgent-care providers, Borden says, and QuickMed hopes to fill that need.
“What we’re looking at doing in the Cleveland/Akron area is expanding. We want to do the same thing that we did here in the Youngstown area. And that is create access to quick quality care,” Borden says.
Borden says that QuickMed is taking steps to reach that goal.
“We are looking to partner with local schools in the Cleveland/Akron region like we are here in the Youngstown area to start school-based clinics,” Borden says.
QuickMed boasts an entirely female administrative staff – although not by design.
“This wasn’t because I decided one day I’m going to only hire women in these roles,” Esmail says. “When we evaluate the history of our hiring and our growth and our innovation, it always comes back to my team helped us grow. My team has historically been, in the administrative realm, women. And I think that says something.”
Borden and Bodrick both speak to Esmail’s tenacity and strength as a leader.
Bodrick says she’s a straightforward and brilliant innovator.
“She’s restless, like the girl doesn’t sleep,” Bodrick says. “She’ll call me anytime at night with an idea. If it’s a yes, we’re moving forward by morning. She moves fast.”
Borden says Esmail is a hands-on service leader with a “huge heart. She cares very much about the business and serving the underprivileged communities and reaching people that don’t have access to certain types of care.”
Borden, the newest addition to the team, says the female-friendly environment is part of what drew her to QuickMed.
“What really interested me and attracted me to QuickMed is the fact that we’re women-led. And I’m very excited to be a part of that,” Borden says. “I think women in business bring such a great strength. We bring a lot of empathy to business and the ability to multitask.”
Bodrick echoes Borden’s sentiments and emphasizes the empathy that exists in the company. As a mother herself, she appreciates that women share her experience and understand the challenges working mothers face.
“Given our roles as women in society, I think it’s important to not just take professional Amber, but you take all of me,” Bodrick says. “I think that’s what QuickMed does a great job of doing – they totally and fully embrace you.”
Bodrick says the QuickMed culture embraces differences. As a Black woman, she says she’s a “double minority” and QuickMed pushes for and embraces that diversity.
“We have all types of diversity here and we embrace all of that,” Bodrick says.
Diversity and representation is also important among the providers. Esmail says the majority of QuickMed’s providers are nurse practitioners, a profession historically dominated by women.
The National Academy of Nursing reports that almost 90% of nurse practitioners are women.
Race is also an important factor of representation. Esmail says that hiring a diverse staff is important, particularly when working in a diverse area.
A study examining diversity in medicine found that physicians of color are more likely to treat minority patients and practice in underserved communities, and that sharing a racial or cultural background with one’s doctor helps to promote communication and trust.
Esmail says it was especially important to have a diverse staff at the clinics in Youngstown City School District where over half of the student body is Black.
“I think representation is important not only for the feeling of comfort in a historically mistrusting environment for people that come from urban populations,” Esmail says. “It’s also relevant for representation as it pertains to having someone that people can see that looks like them and they can aspire to be like when they grow up.”
Pictured at top: The QuickMed administrative team: Stacy Butera, marketing director; Lauren Borden, growth & development director Cleveland/Akron; Lena Esmail, owner and CEO; Amber Bodrick, director of finance; Tara Evans, director of occupational health, Debra Wrenn, director of advanced practice providers.