Sitting on a folding chair in a small room at the back of CVS/ Pharmacy in Northampton, Christopher Meoli of Northborough had the sleeve of his T-shirt rolled up waiting for the needle family nurse practitioner Connie Turner had aimed at his upper arm.
“I’m pretty scared,” he said as Turner drew closer to a spot near his colorful compass tattoo. He laughed. “The anticipation is totally worse than the shot.”
Meoli, 24, was in the area visiting his girlfriend in Southampton and decided to stop in at the CVS Minute Clinic to get the last round of shots he needed before shipping out on his first assignment as a merchant mariner. His first injection that day was the measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine. The next shot, inserted into his forearm, was PPD, a screening for tuberculosis.
“You’ve got some tough skin there, Christopher,” Turner told him.
Meoli was one of two people who showed up at the clinic that Wednesday afternoon. The other patient, Stacie Manning of Holyoke, a nurse practitioner who works at the Minute Clinic in Amherst, came for a Hepatitis A vaccine.
The clinic comprises two closed-off examination rooms, a check-in kiosk and three plastic chairs for those waiting. It is run by Turner and Kathryn Bester, also a family nurse practitioner. It opened last fall as part of a network of similar CVS clinics across the country. Locally, in addition to the CVS in Amherst, the CVS in Greenfield also has one.
The idea to add clinics to CVS stores was to increase access to medical care, said Brittany Silva, family nurse practitioner and state practice manager for the clinics in Massachusetts. The clinics also seek to fill a need in communities where there is a shortage of primary care doctors, she said.
“We really see ourselves as supplemental and bridging that gap,” she said. “We certainly do not replace the primary care physician.”
Besides vaccinations, the clinics offer treatment for all types of minor injuries and ailments from ear infections to the flu. The family nurse practitioners also do sports physicals and run wellness programs like weight loss and smoking cessation, said Silva.
Patients don’t need an appointment. The check-in kiosk lets patients know how long they can expect to wait. Above the kiosk, a bright blue display advertises service prices for uninsured patients or for those who choose to pay out of pocket: exams for minor illness or allergy symptoms, $79 to $99, physical exams, $59 to $109, blood sugar tests, $21, mono tests, $22.
The intent, Silva said, is to make the care affordable to most patients.
The clinics are open from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. during the week, 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. on Saturdays, and 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. on Sundays, a broader range of hours than most doctor’s offices, she said. “We’re really trying to make sure we’re staying open evenings and weekends … to make up for gaps in primary care appointments.”
CVS contracts with most major health insurances, including MassHealth, the state’s subsidized insurance plan. In Northampton, however, the clinic is still in the process of working out the MassHealth coverage arrangements, according to Silva.
Insurance is not accepted for physicals.
Because the clinic staff are all family nurse practitioners, they see patients as young as 18 months. The nurses are able to diagnose illnesses and prescribe medication, Silva said. And, they send all materials, with permission, to the patients’ primary care physicians. The clinics also provides each patient with a summary of the care provided, along with advice for follow up.
Turner said one aspect of her job that she enjoys is the “a-ha” moment, when a patient gets a diagnosis. She said it is particularly satisfying when she can put anxious parents at ease concerning a child’s symptoms.
“That’s worth a million dollars,” she said. “There’s a lot of reassurance that we can provide.”
As for Meoli, due to his travel-heavy lifestyle, he often utilizes walk-in clinics, but this was his first time seeking treatment at CVS.
Turner instructed him to return on Friday or Saturday for the results of his PPD test, and cautioned him that waiting more than 72 hours would mean having to redo it.
He left a happy customer.
“That is one of the best shots I’ve ever gotten,” he said. “I didn’t even feel it.”•