By Debbie Adams
Long ago it was the norm for doctors to make house calls—in a time when medicine was more hands-on and personal. Whitney Pugh, founder and CEO of Agenacare Housecalls, PLLC, believes that “not-so-modern approach” of “healthcare that comes to you” needs to be revisited and may be the best way to provide excellent quality medical care in this day and age.
“We’re kind of filling that gap in the community that instead of having to go to the office or to a waiting room and wait for hours, patients tell us what time they want us to be there; we show up right there at their door or their business and take care of them and we’re done,” Pugh said. All it takes is a simple phone call by the client to schedule an appointment.
She describes her business as a “Concierge Urgent Care and Primary Care Service” which allows patients to control their own medical care.
Pugh was one of the entrepreneurs this spring in the 2021 Gauntlet Business Program and Competition and one of its top winners—on the Platinum Level, with $10,905 in cash and prizes.
She is a Board Certified Nurse Practitioner. Her medical staff at Agenacare includes other nurse practitioners, physician’s assistants, and paramedics, along with a collaborating physician who doesn’t see patients, but works with the company.
Pugh grew up in Rural Retreat, entered Radford University immediately after graduating from high school, and earned her Bachelor of Science in Nursing. She “absolutely loved” the emergency room and urgent care work.
After a year of working in a Trauma 2 unit in Bristol beginning in 2003, she moved to “the big city” of Roanoke to work in a Trauma 1 unit at Roanoke Memorial. (Level 1 Trauma Centers are required to have immediately available all resources to stabilize and definitively treat even the most complex traumatic injuries. Trauma 2 centers typically have resources to stabilize and treat most patients but will have to transfer patients for more in depth or specialized care.)
Pugh and some friends–looking for adventure–decided to become traveling nurses for a time, signing 13-week contracts to work in Tucson, at Duke University, and then in the ER at ECU. She decided to settle down in the valley when she met her husband Joey, now the acting fire marshal for Roanoke City Fire and EMS. She worked in the ER at Carilion Franklin Memorial Hospital and then returned to school to become a nurse practitioner, licensed in 2009.
Over time she came to feel disheartened about the work she was doing. Although she loved urgent care and emergency room work, she began to feel that with the current corporate medical system, patients have become mostly numbers. She was expected to see 60-70 patients a day with about four minutes allotted per patient and encouraged to focus on just one symptom to treat. Patients had to be pushed in and out as quickly as possible.
She came to hate not the work, but the system. She and her husband were on vacation in Nashville when she told him she needed to make a change. “I want to make a difference, and this is not it,” Pugh said. “We are just putting a Band-Aid over a cut. I can either complain or be the change,” and announced her intention to establish an urgent care concierge house call practice.
Pugh wanted to give the patients the experience that she would want if she were a patient herself.
“When I opened this business I said, ‘What would I want as a mom? What would I want as a citizen that if I was having a company come to me, what would make me happy?’”
Her theory was that “people love house calls” and want the mutual respect relationship and trust that develops between a client and medical professionals.
In July 2019, Pugh met with Tom Tanner, Senior Business Advisor at the Small Business Development Center in Roanoke, telling him about her dream– “this is what I want to do; I have no idea how it needs to be done.”
With his help setting up the PLLC (professional limited liability company) and connecting her to resources, she launched Agenacare Housecalls in December 2019. Her goal was to “change medicine in my area,” which then was mainly Franklin County.
When she started, she was the only employee and worked out of the back of her car, seeing a couple of patients a day.
Early on a friend cut a finger; she was there quickly and as a result he missed only a few minutes of work, not hours spent in urgent care or a doctor’s office. Her reputation spread by word-of-mouth. Then the pandemic hit, and April 2020 was “mostly silent.”
But suddenly, with the isolation of the pandemic, word-of-mouth and social media began bringing in 5, 10, 15 patients a day. Business has continued to evolve over time and is now booming with 20-30 patients a day.
Agenacare Housecalls has an administrative office on Electric Road in Roanoke, a marketing team, a social media team, multiple vehicles (small SUVs stuffed with everything needed for urgent care), and multiple medical providers. They offer mobile health services 24/7 all over the valley, in Franklin, Botetourt, and Henry counties, and as far away as Abingdon.
Pugh says they mainly provide urgent care, primary care visits, and telehealth, but they offer a wide array of other services as well, including annual wellness checkups, flu and COVID-19 vaccines (2,200 to date), functional medicine, treatment of upper respiratory infections, lab draws, pre-employment physicals, Rapid COVID-19 testing, strep testing, suture and wound care, and much more. (Agenacare does not offer orthopedic, women’s health, or chronic pain services.)
The Agenacare team refers complicated cases on to physicians; they call 911 for emergencies if needed, as they do not transport patients.
Pugh describes her typical clients as “middle class business people with a lot going on who don’t want to take a day off work for a medical appointment, or adult caregivers taking care of elderly parents” who they don’t want sitting uncomfortably in a waiting room exposed to illness. Some are parents who don’t want to take all of their children with them to the ER or urgent care if one is ill.
Agenacare places a big emphasis on continuity of care and follow-up care. Eighty percent of their business is from returning clients,
Making an appointment with Agenacare is a simple three-step process: call the dispatch number to make an appointment (same day service); a certified healthcare provider comes to you and examines your illness or injury; the healthcare provider provides necessary treatment.
Agenacare does not accept insurance; they charge a flat fee which is posted on the Agenacare Housecalls website. Cost-saving memberships are available.
Pugh says she is still “working in the trenches” and “always plans to be.” She answers night-time medical calls and does her CEO work during the day.
As for the Gauntlet experience, Pugh says someone mentioned the Gauntlet in conjunction with learning how to run a business; she signed up and that knowledge is exactly what she gained, along with the networking opportunities made available through the 10 weeks of classes and the final competition.
Pugh is now well on her way to quickly becoming the change she wanted to see in the world of medicine.
More information on Agenacare Housecalls, PLLC and their services may be found at agenacare.com or by calling 540-529-5692, 24 hours a day, except Christmas and Easter.