New emergency care, senior facilities planned

Benny Westcott and Scott Swanson

Long-awaited, big healthcare changes are coming to Sweet Home, city and corporate officials announced Thursday, June 10, during a meeting hosted by Wiley Creek Community.

The senior residence facility will be sold to Salem-based Mosaic Management, Inc., which will continue its operation, and a new 15,000-square-foot primary and urgent care clinic will be built on the 42-acre site by Samaritan Health next door to the existing facility, Marty Cahill, CEO of Samaritan Lebanon Community Hospital, announced.

Cahill said he expects the design and construction process for the urgent care facility to take place over the next year and a half to two-year time period.

“We recognized that we needed to create more robust access to primary and urgent care service in Sweet Home,” he said. “The nearest urgent care services are in Lebanon, and that can seem a long way when you need medical care now.”

“There’s a lot of positives with this,” said Sweet Home Mayor Greg Mahler, who has also been a long-time volunteer for Sweet Home Fire and Ambulance District.

“We’re one of the largest fire districts in the state of Oregon and a lot of times we’re strapped for ambulances or support. It’s long overdue to have these medical facilities come to Sweet Home.”

Cahill said Mosaic develops, builds and operates senior housing communities, and has 11 such facilities in Oregon and Montana.

The Wiley Creek purchase is expected to be completed in late August.

Cahill said Mosaic will be taking over the operations at Wiley Creek in the next couple of months.

Wiley Creek, which was created by the Mid-Valley Medical Group, operators of then-Lebanon Community Hospital, opened in January 1998, culminating a years-long effort to get a senior residence care facility located in Sweet Home. Mid-Valley Medical Group later merged with Samaritan Health, which has operated the facility since.

“It’s bittersweet today,” said Samaritan President/Chief Executive Officer Doug Boysen. “It’s always hard when you’re talking to employees and residents and they know there’s going to be some change.”

“But I think at the end of the day it is going to be a really positive change,” he said.

Of Mosaic, Boysen said “I think we found a really good partner that fits our values, has Oregon roots, and are focused and exp,erienced in running senior facilities like this one. I’ve been really impressed with their vision of what they want to do on this campus.”

Doug Sproul, CEO of Mosaic, said, “What we do is senior living. That’s all we do. It’s all I’ve been doing for 26 years.”

Sproul said Mosaic plans on doing a multiple-phased approach to the campus.

He said that after acquisition the company will spend about $500,000 in renovation and capital improvements, including carpet, paint, furniture, and HVAC upgrades, as well as some roof replacement.

Sproul also said Mosaic is in the process of designing and planning a 48-bed memory care stand-alone building, that will be situated near the main entrance.

“Although it is stand-alone, it will work in unison with the assisted living and the independent cottages,” Sproul said.

He added that Mosaic plans a second phase, which will include the addition of 20 to 22 assisted living units, as well as an additional triplex.

When the campus is all built out from the senior living standpoint, it will have about 137 units, he said.

Sproul said he hopes that the memory care building will start construction in late spring or early summer of next year.

“Usually it takes about a year to build and a year to stabilize,” he said. “And at that point, as long as we experience the demand that we think is present in the current community, we will add in an additional assisted living component that will have a larger common dining room area, so we can have events and activities there. And it will have an exercise room.”

Mahler said that having primary care facilities in town will significantly improve the quality of life for older residents in particular.

“I’ve got a lot of elderly folks and we’re not giving them a fair chance,” he said.

Bob Dalton, a member of Sweet Home’s city Health Committee and whose mother and mother-in-law both spent time at Wiley Creek, said the move is “just a job well done on everybody’s part.”

He said the absence of memory care facilities in Sweet Home has posed a problem for years, noting that local families have been forced to look as far away as Albany, Corvallis, Salem or beyond for care facilities for loved ones.

“Wiley Creek was a stepping stone, but there was a need for dementia, memory care and there wasn’t any. It’s very stressful for a family to make that decision, to move a family member far away from home for care.”

The new owners, he said, “are one of the best fits for Sweet Home,” observing that residential senior care isn’t really part of Samaritan’s business model, which is focused on primary care.

In explaining Mosaic’s interest in acquiring Wiley Creek Community, Sproul referenced the pastoral setting, nearby land on which to expand, well-maintained facilities and qualified staff. He said the facility’s current 24 employees will be invited to apply for the positions Mosaic plans to hire at Wiley Creek. 

Sproul said, “It’s really exciting to work with (Samaritan). We’ve worked with hospitals on several opportunities over the last few years, on coming in and doing exactly this. They kind of get out of the senior housing business, and they’re able to enhance the health care delivery side, and we come in and do what our expertise are.”

Boysen said employees may also choose to apply for other jobs within Samaritan for which they qualify.

Cahill said Samaritan has developed a Request for Proposal for an architectural firm to help design a “21st Century medical clinic” at the Wiley Creek site.

“Although it’s currently housed in an older building, Sweet Home Family Medicine is an innovative example of how other important services can be co-located in a medical clinic,” Cahill said, citing the dental services currently housed at the Sweet Home clinic as well as other supportive services.  “We want to continue that concept in the facility, as well as expand our capabilities for providing telehealth services.”

The current family medicine clinic building, at the junction of Highways 20 and 228, will provide expanded physical rehabilitation services, officials said.

City officials and local advocates for improved healthcare in Sweet Home said the moves are the fruition of years of work to expand services in the community.

Sweet Home Fire and Ambulance District Chief Dave Barringer said the fire station gets “a lot of walk-in patients” who get evaluated by medics, but having the Samaritan urgent care facility will reduce that need.

“They can go to the clinic, to urgent care, and have a doctor do that. This is good for our community. Having one more option is a really nice thing.

It’s just and improvement to the quality of life here in Sweet Home. This will be a little more robust than our current clinic.”

Mahler, who has been a vocal advocate for improving the health care facilities in Sweet Home, particularly to enable faster response times to medical emergencies, praised the move as a step in a direction he’s been advocating for years.

“For years Samaritan has been a great partner of our community. I’m ecstatic that they’re bringing health services to our community. I applaud them. It’s great. It’s great for our economic development directive that we’ve given our community.

“My long-term goal is actually to have a small hospital of sort with ER capabilities. We service close to 19,000 people (in SHFAD) and for how far we go up the pass, the territory we cover, we need to have a facility so at least we can have someone sustained.”

Mahler also praised Samaritan’s plans to install a helipad at Wiley Creek as “huge.” He noted that immediately following the news conference on Thursday, a pickup vs. motorcycle crash on Highway 20 east of Foster required a LifeFlight air ambulance that had to land at CTC’s helipad.

“One of our biggest frustrations is to figure out where to drop the helicopter,” Mahler said, noting that landing zones have included the high school football field, the Green River area, and the middle of Highway 20.

“It’s a safety issue. There are pedestrians and bystanders who might be injured. We need a place to safely bring someone in, get them on a helicopter and get them out of here quick, where Air Life has the coordinates and they know exactly where to go.”

Sweet Home City Manager Ray Towry also expressed his approval of the change. “Our residents prioritized the addition of memory care and urgent care as desired essential services,” he said. “So we are very pleased to see these plans moving forward.”