Hero Next Door: DO establishes network of urgent care centers for underserved
This article is part of a series, The Hero Next Door, on osteopathic physicians who are quietly transforming health care in their communities and beyond.
Many physicians who pursue emergency medicine are adrenaline junkies who revel in the fast pace and unpredictability of their field. While dedicated to saving lives, they aren’t necessarily known for establishing personal connections with those they treat. Los Angeles-area emergency physician Eugene Allen, DO, however, stands apart for the rapport and close relationships he develops with patients, says Connie Yu, DO, who was mentored by him during medical school and residency and eventually became his wife.
“His kind and gentle spirit helps patients deal with difficult diagnoses,” Dr. Yu says. “He spends time counseling not only patients but their families as well.”
In the emergency department, Dr. Allen was struck by the patients who were not seriously ill or injured but needed reasonably prompt medical attention—those individuals who typically spend hours in emergency rooms because triage decisions prioritize other patients. Observing mothers with crying, ailing children wait all night to be seen, he founded Dusk to Dawn Urgent Care 10 years ago.
“I was working in a small hospital in Victorville [Calif.] when the idea first came to me,” Dr. Allen remembers. “Paramedics kept bringing patients in, while moms with sick babies would wait six or seven hours and sometimes up to 12 hours to see me. I knew that wasn’t right.”
Starting with a single clinic in Paramount, Calif., Dusk to Dawn has expanded to four other locations in metropolitan Los Angeles. “Now that I’ve made a name for myself, communities are calling me to tell me where my next location should be,” Dr. Allen says. He finds out from area hospitals and insurance carriers which communities have too many patients visiting emergency departments for sore throats, runny noses, minor fractures and lacerations. Such patients deserve fast, convenient, affordable, high-quality care in an outpatient setting, he insists.
“Eugene Allen will go all out for his patients to make things happen,” says H. Range Hutson, MD, who chaired the emergency department at Martin Luther King Jr.-Harbor Hospital in Los Angeles when Dr. Allen trained there in the mid-1990s. “He sees people even when they don’t have money or insurance. His goal is to properly take care of patients and that’s exactly what he does.”
Dusk to Dawn prides itself on providing relatively prompt care to walk-in patients from wide-ranging socioeconomic backgrounds. “We make sure that patients are seen within 45 minutes of walking through the door, even if we’re busy,” Dr. Allen says. “If they aren’t seen in that time frame, we cut their co-pay in half.”
Because of Dr. Allen’s emergency medicine background, Dusk to Dawn offers many emergency procedures that urgent care facilities don’t normally provide. “The only time we send patients to the emergency room is when they need to be admitted into a hospital,” he says.
Many patients who visit Dr. Allen initially for urgent care select him to be their primary care physician if their insurance plans allow.
“Dr. Gene makes you feel like you are his only patient, no matter how busy he is,” says Gerard Bisignano of Palos Verdes Estates, Calif., who sees Dr. Allen for primary care. “For example, I had some blood work done recently, and he went over the results with me blow by blow.
“My cholesterol was on the high side, so he laid it out for me: ‘Here is what you should be eating. I want you to follow the plan and come back in three months and then we’ll decide what sort of medicine, if any, to put you on.’
“I was so impressed. Dr. Gene has such a passion for each patient. He is so involved and concerned, even though he is busy running a medical organization with multiple locations.”
Dr. Allen practices primarily at the Paramount clinic, but he frequently visits the other locations to interact with patients and make sure his nearly 40 employees are providing care to his standards.
“He hires people who have the same values as he does—who want to treat patients who are underserved and do everything they can to keep patients from having to go to emergency rooms,” says Dr. Yu, a family physician who serves as Dusk to Dawn’s chief financial officer and practices in the organization’s Long Beach, Calif., clinic.
Raised by his great-great grandmother in rural Mississippi after his parents died when he was 9 months old, Dr. Allen grew up understanding the effects of poverty and the struggles of the medically underserved. His upbringing, he says, taught him to be humble and thankful and instilled in him the drive to make a difference in the lives of others.
More than 65 years older than Dr. Allen, “Mom,” as he called her, combined southern hospitality with deep religious conviction, integrity, resourcefulness and education from the proverbial school of hard knocks.
“He sees people even when they don’t have money or insurance. His goal is to properly take care of patients and that’s exactly what he does.”
“As an older woman, Mom had so much wisdom. She had seen so much and done so much,” Dr. Allen says. “Her worldview was not about getting everything that you can. It was about being fair and honest and treating people right. She influenced me to become a better physician and a more understanding physician.”
As a result of his upbringing, Dr. Allen developed confidence and optimism. He became interested in osteopathic medicine because it was a DO country doctor who took care of patients in his hometown of Cleveland, Miss. “He was someone that everybody loved,” recollects Dr. Allen, a 1994 graduate of the West Virginia School of Osteopathic Medicine in Lewisburg.
During his residency in Los Angeles at one of the nation’s highest-volume Level 1 trauma centers, Dr. Allen proved himself to be not only very bright and hard-working but also an emerging leader, according to Dr. Hutson, who is not surprised by Dr. Allen’s success.
“He is very easy to work with. He is not excitable,” says Dr. Hutson, who today practices at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston. “He is levelheaded and open to new ideas. He is also open to compromising and able to bring people together to get things done.”
Friend to all
Dr. Yu first got to know Dr. Allen when she was a seventh-grade science teacher looking for an osteopathic physician to shadow. “I contacted about 20 DOs, and he was the only one who called me back,” she says.
What has struck her most about Dr. Allen, whom she married two years ago, is his friendliness. “He often says that he has never met a stranger,” she notes. “He will befriend anybody. He will walk down the street and start up a conversation with a random person, and it’s like they’ve known each other forever.”
For Dr. Allen, friendship is more than being sociable. He believes close relationships are necessary to do his job well. “What allows you to be a great doctor is that patients trust you because you are their friend,” he says.
Empathy for disadvantaged
Dr. Allen recently received an email from a mother who not long ago returned to work after a prolonged period of unemployment. She wrote that she lacked health insurance and couldn’t afford a minor outpatient surgical procedure her daughter needed to continue to participate in sports. Dr. Allen responded by providing the woman a substantial discount on the procedure.
This, he says, is typical of the concern he has for patients who are struggling financially. Dusk to Dawn accepts Medi-Cal, Medicare and all manner of private insurance but also treats the indigent, the uninsured and the underinsured on a sliding scale.
Giving people better access to care in and of itself makes Dr. Allen a standout physician, Dr. Hutson says. But Dr. Allen does even more for the community. Every year, for instance, he gives away more than 1,000 turkeys during Thanksgiving and Christmas.
“Most physicians don’t do that,” Dr. Hutson observes. “Here is a guy who cares about the people he serves.”
Turkeys hold special significance for Dr. Allen and others who’ve grown up in poverty. “Being poor in Mississippi, we couldn’t afford a turkey,” he explains, “so we always had chicken and dressing. Mom would stuff a chicken with cornbread that she made.
“I was 19 before I ate turkey and dressing for the first time.”
Dr. Hutson, who is African-American like Dr. Allen, points out that many economically disadvantaged medical students of color end up so encumbered by student loan debt that they are forced to focus exclusively on their careers. “Their debt load is so steep that it’s hard for them to serve the community in a way that they would like to,” Dr. Hutson says. “But Dr. Allen is a guy who is doing that.
“He has student loans like everybody else and responsibilities like everybody else, but he has been able to create an environment in which he serves people every day. That’s very impressive.”
With two infant sons, one a newborn, Dr. Allen and Dr. Yu also make as much time as they can for family. His role as a new father has given Dr. Allen much reason for reflection.
“What the young guys have allowed me to do, which I think is the best thing ever, is define time,” he says. “I am thinking more about where I want to be at this point and where I want to be at that point.”
He has dreams for his sons, but mostly he wants them to feel loved, to care for others and to have convictions.
“Of course, I would love for them to go into medicine and take over Dusk to Dawn eventually,” he says. “But I want them to understand that no matter what they choose to do, we’re here to help.
“Every day, they are going to see what their mom and dad do. The rest is what God has in store for them.
“I will show them what I’ve been fortunate to learn—that your true role in life is what you do for mankind, not for your own self or your own greed.
“I’m thankful to God for the opportunities I’ve received. I will take Dusk to Dawn as far as it is meant to go because I know who is really controlling it—I’m just the man behind the scenes.”