The relocation of Urgent Care from the Chase Medical Complex into the former Walla Walla General Hospital is a surreal return to the neighborhood for Audra Saranto.

The clinic manager and longtime registered nurse grew up with General as a neighbor. As a young girl, she wandered the corridors in the early 1980s, enamored with the blue-and-white dresses of the candy stripers, and would offer her assistance, pushing wheelchairs down the hallways until she became old enough to be a candy striper herself.

At 18 she became a certified nursing assistant, paving the way for a career in health care that this week circles back to where it all began.

On Wednesday, Saranto led the relocation of Urgent Care at what is now the Providence Southgate Medical Park.

After a full day of service at the Chase Medical Complex, the complete transition took place Wednesday evening. The new location opened at 8 a.m. today.

Along with imaging and lab services, the opening marks the first major move inside the hospital space since Walla Walla General ended its 140-plus-year run one year ago.

Saranto has become more or less the mastermind of moving or opening clinics for Providence. In February 2017, she led the opening of Providence’s first storefront medical service, Express Care, in College Place. The model is designed as accessible and affordable care for basic services — sport physicals, immunizations, screenings for everything from strep throat to pregnancy.

Since then, Saranto has duplicated that with another opening in Walla Walla’s Eastgate neighborhood, a Walla Walla University campus service and the relocation of Providence’s Family Medicine operation to the Southgate complex next to the former General. Now comes the relocation of Urgent Care.

“There will be more, cascading from this,” Saranto said.

Managing services while also packing for a move is no easy undertaking. As a patient stepped onto a scale in the hallway Wednesday, Saranto pointed out an exam room that was shut down for the move. Outside, a worker removed the Urgent Care sign from the building as staff packed boxes onto dollies for the transition.

The new spot is what was known to longtime General patients as the Emergency Department. Rooms designed for emergency visits and constructed as part of the $68 million in investments by Adventist Health in the years just before the closure are perfect for Urgent Care, Providence officials say.

Virtually turnkey, the spot has been prepped for the move to give Providence more space for primary care and walk-in traffic as the community continues to look for care with shortages of primary doctors and the loss of a hospital.

About 200 community members attended an open house Monday to get a preview of the space before it opened officially today.

“You could tell a lot of the people were relieved the facility was being used,” said Dr. Timothy Davidson, chief medical officer for Providence Medical Group. “That was always our intent, but people couldn’t always see it.”

Urgent Care has averaged between 1,600 and 2,000 patient visits a month, depending on the season. In the first six months of this year, people turned to Urgent Care more than 10,000 times.

With the new space, a bump from eight to 11 rooms and an increase in hours, the transition holds the potential to offer care for an additional 13,000 patient visits per year Davidson said.

Additional services offered in the Chase Medical Complex will continue as normal.

How the remaining hospital building on Second Avenue will be used will continue to be developed, Davidson said.

“It’s a big deal to move a department to a bigger place,” he said.

Vicki Hillhouse can be reached at 509-526-8321, or on Twitter at

Vicki covers business and economic development, including tourism, the Port of Walla Walla and the Strictly Business column, as well as features. She has been reporting for the Union-Bulletin since late 2001.