Fast Pace Urgent Care founder Stan Bevis understands too well the gap in rural healthcare access—and its cost—for America’s rural population.

He was 20 years old and still completing nursing school when his father died of a heart attack.  Bevis performed CPR on his father for 20 minutes while waiting for an ambulance to arrive. That’s when Bevis’ goal of expanding rural healthcare access turned into a mission.

Rural healthcare access

Stan Bevis

Demographic data show rural populations are older and poorer than those in urban areas. A larger percentage of rural population relies on government assistance, and fewer have employee-provided health care coverage. Also, about a quarter of the U.S. population lives in rural areas, but only about 10 percent of U.S. physicians practice in rural America.

Bevis, a registered nurse with experience flying as part of a life flight crew, wanted to open a medical clinic in an underserved area. His wife, fellow nurse Winnette Painter, encouraged him, even though they had their hands full with four children at home. They didn’t want more families, like Bevis’, to have to make the choice between losing wages from leaving work to sit in a physician’s office or putting food on the table.

In 2009, Bevis opened the first Fast Pace Urgent Care Clinic in Collinsville, a southern Tennessee town of fewer than 1,000 people. The walk-in clinic offered access every day of the week, a novel concept in an area where primary care offices weren’t even open every weekday.

“Many times providers are there, but they’re open Mondays, Tuesdays, Wednesday mornings and maybe every third Friday,” Bevis said. “People were so appreciative of having this access to urgent care.”

In January, Bevis will open his 30th clinic. The network of Fast Pace Urgent Care Clinics extends across Tennessee and Kentucky, due in part to Bevis’ partnership in 2012 with Chicago-based equity firm Shore Capital Partners.

He’s bucking the trend because while the number of urgent care centers is climbing, most—82 percent—are located in suburban areas.  The number of clinics in rural areas dropped from 21 percent in 2009 to 8 percent in 2013, the most recent year of data available from the Urgent Care Association of America.

In the early days, Bevis chose new locations based on gut instinct. But nowadays “the private equity guys like to put numbers around things,” he said.

The need for healthcare in rural areas is well documented. A 2014 report “Access to Rural Health Care” said barriers to healthcare result in unmet needs including lack of preventative and screening services, treatment of illnesses, and preventing patients from needing costly hospital care.

Patient education is still one of the biggest obstacles to expanding healthcare in these areas. Bevis said he’s had to convince his own mother on several occasions that she could just walk in to the urgent care center, she didn’t need to have an appointment.

“People are so trained that they have to make an appointment and then wait days and days. We need to explain what urgent care is,” he said.

He remembers one patient, a masonry worker, who had a big concrete job going. Even though he felt sick, he wasn’t going to take the next day off to go see the doctor, Bevis said. Someone convinced him after work to visit urgent care, where he was assessed and sent on to the hospital for three stents.

“This obviously hit home with me given my history with my dad. Our clinics being open extended hours saved this man’s life,” Bevis said. “And he didn’t have insurance, but we have a very reasonable self-pay process for that reason.”

“We feel very fortunate that we’ve been part of some really good outcomes.”