Birmingham's American Family Care set to Expand - Birmingham Business Journal

June 22, 2007

Birmingham's American Family Care set to expand

Starting with a new urgent-care center in Greystone, American Family Care is launching an ambitious campaign to double its operations within five years.The 25-year-old Birmingham-based chain of free-standing independent health clinics has purchased property near the U.S. 280/Alabama 119 intersection to build its 21st facility.

Founder and CEO Bruce Irwin said he has been eyeing the bustling corridor for years but had difficulty securing a suitable site. "We follow people," Irwin said. "I've watched the area grow. There is tremendous need out there." American Family has 13 Birmingham locations, three Huntsville clinics and two each in Mobile and Montgomery.

Part of Irwin's five-year plan is expanding past Alabama's borders. He said he is eyeing potential sites in Tennessee, the Florida panhandle and Orlando.

Irwin said demand dictates location and it is the catalyst for the pending move of his Irondale facility to the under-construction Eastwood Village, which will be anchored by a Wal-Mart SuperCenter.

"It made sense to meet the needs of our patients and to move to a more easily accessible site," Irwin said.

American Family claims to be the largest provider of outpatient care in the state. It opened an Alabaster facility in January following two new locations in the Huntsville area in 2006. It has plans for a fourth Huntsville site.

The statewide chain sees 350,000 patients per year and has grown to more than 400 employees. American Family plans to open three new facilities annually over the next five years.

When Irwin opened his first facility in Hoover in 1982, he had four employees. His start-up costs were $500,000.

Today, he said $3 million is required to launch a new clinic. Irwin declined to provide American Family's annual revenues.

Irwin said his company will keep its Alabama focus on major metropolitan locations along the Interstate 65 corridor.

"Our pattern of growth is based on demand and our economic condition," Irwin said. "We have sufficient opportunities in those areas to meet our business model."

Urgent Care Association of America Executive Director Lou Ellen Horwitz said the industry is booming with multiple clinics opening across the nation each week.

She said the industry's growth is under the radar because there is no national urgent-care facility database.

She said insurance companies and Medicare/Medicaid reimbursements to urgent-care clinics are not differentiated from hospital payments which prohibits a statistical comparison.

Horwitz estimated there are 180 million urgent-care facility visits each year. In 2005, the average charge per patient visit was $200.

Most urgent-care clinics are operated by physician entrepreneurs who generally have just one or two sites, Horwitz said.

Horwitz said location is a critical factor for urgent-care clinic success. Generally, sites should be close to a population-base of 40,000, near large employers and a busy street.

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