Ridgeway adds primary care to increase patient ‘access’

Scott Swanson

Ridgeway Health, the independent medical clinic that opened downtown in the summer of 2021, has quietly begun taking primary care patients, owner and founder Dr. Sam Milstein confirmed last week.

Milstein said Ridgeway began taking patients on Jan. 16 after taking on its first “full-time primary care provider,” Diana Scott.

“I personally started seeing patients and enrolling them for primary care services on Monday,” Milstein said. “Diana started Tuesday and since then we’ve been off to the races.”

Scott, who is married to Mark Scott, pastor of Crawfordsville Calvary Chapel, joined Ridgeway on Jan. 17 after working as an independent medical examiner. She had previously worked as a nurse practitioner for Samaritan Health and then as a doctor of nursing practice for the Corvallis Clinic and in Lincoln City.

Milstein said that a big part of the process of getting Ridgeway up and running and then offering primary care has been getting help from Quality Care Associates, a Corvallis-based nonprofit independent practice association that has provided services to independent medical providers in the Mid-Willamette Valley for more than 20 years.

IPAs help independent medical practices contract with insurance providers and health plans, said Chad Niegel, Quality Care Associates executive director, adding that his organization serves 23 independent clinics and 124 practitioners at present, ranging across the board in the services they offer.

“I wouldn’t have a practice if it wasn’t for Chad and the IPA,” Milstein said. “Nobody’s heard of it but it’s one of the critical infrastructures in the valley. We’re all independent practices but we all come together to collaborate.”

He said that offering primary care has been a goal since his clinic opened a year and a half ago.

“There’s so much demand, that I’m actually imagining coming in on Sundays, personally, because my goal is to have primary care and emergency care available throughout the week, as much as possible,” Milstein said.

“I have a family, kids, I work, and getting to a primary care provider at 11 a.m., it’s easier to do on the weekend for some people. Access is a critical issue, a tremendous issue.”

Niegel, who was sitting nearby as Milstein talked with a reporter, agreed.

“We’ve heard that getting like a new-patient visit into Samaritan is taking 10 months,” he said. “We have other primary care in QCA where they’re getting them in in a week or less.”

Milstein said his biggest goal at Ridgeway is making healthcare available to the community.

“Not a lot of places are open to accepting (Oregon Health Plan),” he said.

He said that he’s trying to prioritize his waiting list of new patients by determining who’s most in need, “at risk.”

“After that, we want to proiritize those who take care of others – that’s city government, police, fire, schools.

“After that it’s just whoever will be getting in the fastest.”

He said it takes time to coordinate with insurance companies, especially as he brings in new medical providers who have to be “credentialed” by insurers, a time-consuming process.

Currently, Milstein said, “the one that we can get in quickest is Regence.”

Meanwhile, he said, Ridgeway is taking a “waitlist” of prospective patients, some of whom realized that primary care was in the offing when “they saw me doing construction here at 11 p.m.”

“We have a waitlist and a sign-up sheet on our website where people can enroll on our waitlist, and so we’re doing our best to ethically keep those commitments, within reason.”

He added: “If there’s something critical, you don’t have to wait for us to do primary care. Just come on in.”

The Primary Care Waitlist can be accessed at ridgewayhealth.org.

In addition to colleague Dr. Tim Hindmarsh, who has been with Ridgeway for most of its existence, urgent care providers Liz Gienger, a nurse practitioner, and physician’s assistant Kris Helphinstine will be available to help provide primary care, although their main focus will continue to be urgent care, Milstein said.

“Initially, we’re going to start slow,” he said. “We’re probably going to take a max of 1,000, 1,200 (patients) initially, for those providers. We want to work out all the kinks in communication, workflow. The last thing we want to do is overextend ourselves.”

Ridgeway has an X-ray machine on the premises, which will be installed soon.

Milstein also said they’re interested in providing services, such as occupational therapy, that will be beneficial to a “logging town” where “workplace injuries happen.”

He said working in Sweet Home has been an “amazing experience,” including visiting the homeless camp with his wife and kids to hand out food during the recent ice storm.

Sweet Home is “real,” he said, adding that the genuineness he finds makes being a doctor here “fulfilling.”

“There’s no way that you can get away with superficiality because people see through it, everywhere, but especially here.”

He said his ultimate goal for Ridgeway is to accommodate “three, four, 5,000” patients.

“Our tagline is ‘bridging the gap to better care’ and that’s what the deficiency is – it’s about five or 6,000 people with no PCPs or inadequate access to primary care, who have to commute upwards for an hour and a half. That’s unacceptable.”