Committee weighs ways to improve medical care in SH

Sean C. Morgan

The Sweet Home City Council’s Community Healthcare Committee Monday evening briefly began planning its next health fair and then opened discussions about how to improve healthcare access in Sweet Home.

In its first meeting since September, Bob Dalton told the rest of the committee that he has already reserved the building for the committee’s second health fair, scheduled for Aug. 19, and he was setting up plans to meet monthly with the event subcommittee to plan this year’s event.

Marty Cahill, Chief Executive Officer at Samaritan Lebanon Community Hospital, said Samaritan can come up with speakers on a couple of topics and help add activities, with topics ranging from eating healthy to properly using car seats.

“With the Farmer’s Market attached to it (the health fair),” Cahill said. “How are you going to prepare what you buy there. How do you prepare arugula? There’s some opportunities to bring people in.”

“I would really like to see this committee go beyond the health fair and start talking about what we can do for our community,” Dalton said. He’s not talking about building everything but rather some improvements. He told the committee how he was thinking about taking his daughter to the Sweet Home Clinic on a Saturday, but then he realized it’s not open on Saturdays.

Dalton said he would like to see some efforts made to address the roots of good health by fighting obesity, promoting healthy foods, increasing anti-smoking efforts, improving housing and addressing people in the streets in the cold.

“What’s some of your vision where Samaritan and Sweet Home can partner up?” Mayor Greg Mahler asked Cahill.

Around the Samaritan system are about 40 clinics, Cahill said. They are 100 percent full 8-5 Monday through Friday.

Asking people why they use the emergency room, Samaritan officials hear that it’s about convenience. When they ask further, they find out, especially from the working poor, that they cannot afford to take a day off to visit the clinics. If they don’t work, they cannot make their car payment, for example.

It doesn’t necessarily mean that Samaritan needs to build more clinics, Cahill said, but it’s important for Samaritan to expand its services.

The solution may be to expand hours daily or open on Saturday, Cahill said.

Memory care at Wiley Creek Community assisted living facility may make sense, Cahill said. The number one reason people move their family members from the facility is because it doesn’t provide memory care.

Rather than building a new clinic, other ideas may be to send a doctor to visit residents there once or twice a week, Cahill said. Samaritan hopes to show a proof of concept with that idea by sending a doctor to the veterans home and a rehabilitation facility in Lebanon. Right now, Samaritan is attempting to find a doctor to do it.

Jim Gourley, committee member, said that appointments are four to six weeks out at the Sweet Home Clinic.

“We were pretty backed up there for awhile,” Cahill said. Since then Sweet Home has a new doctor, and walk-in service is pretty good, with same-day or next-day service. The walk-in service can help fill prescriptions too.

It won’t help with narcotics prescriptions though, he said. Neither will urgent care or the emergency room. That’s part of fighting the opioid epidemic. Addicts will visit multiple emergency and urgent care medical facilities in search of opioids, and it’s a significant issue.

“I still feel we’re in need of a new clinic, maybe bigger than what we haven,” Mahler said. “I know Lebanon’s strapped.”

An expansion here in Sweet Home could help alleviate that pressure, he said. Sweet Home is getting strapped too, putting 60,000 miles a year on ambulances to serve one of the largest fire districts in the state. It also keeps medics on the road longer than other districts for each call.

“A lot of calls going from Sweet Home to Lebanon, the patients don’t really need to go over there,” he said.

The Sweet Home Clinic has excellent physical therapy, Mahler said. Perhaps it could move to Wiley Creek Community and make more space at the clinic.

Economic development is one of the council’s primary goals, Mahler said, noting that Sweet Home is growing, and property is selling quickly. Taking it to the next level means improving services, like healthcare among others.

The clinic is in a good location, Cahill said, but adding onto it is something to think about.

“There’s really an opportunity for us to be open on Saturday,” Cahill said. That involves additional expenses since staff members are already working 40-hour weeks. It also involves a change in culture, particularly with the staff, but other Samaritan clinics are open additional hours. “We’re looking at it.”

Committee members attending the meeting included Dalton, Cahill, Mahler, Gourley, Councilor Lisa Gourley and Councilor Dave Trask. Lisa Gourley is the committee chairwoman, with Trask and Mahler serving as council representation on the committee.

The committee will meet next at 6 p.m. Feb. 13 in the City Hall Annex, located behind City Hall, 1140 12th Ave.

For more information or to get involved, call the city manager’s office at (541) 367-8969.