Samaritan heralds coming of new clinic

Benny Westcott

Samaritan Health Services hosted a groundbreaking ceremony Monday morning, Aug. 29 to cele-brate the start of construction on a 17,000-square-foot building on 1289 49th Ave. that will house Samaritan’s new Sweet Home Family Medicine Clinic, as well as a new urgent care and pharmacy.

The building is slated to be completed by fall 2023 and will include 18 family medicine exam rooms, seven urgent care exam rooms, a laboratory, a drive-through pharmacy and a helipad.

“We’ve more than doubled our ability square footage-wise to support the community,” Samaritan Lebanon Community Hospital CEO Marty Cahill said. “The clinic will be equipped with the latest technology, offering telehealth opportunities for our patients to visit with specialists. We’re excited for the facility to serve as a model for other clinics in the Samaritan system.”

“This is our visionary clinic,” he continued. “This is the one that we’re going to use to start to create the feel around primary and urgent care clinics across the system as we expand our services.”

He said that Samaritan worked with the Sweet Home City Council to determine the town’s health care needs and how to address them.

Samaritan also approached WesternU College of Osteopathic Medicine of the Pacific-Northwest in Lebanon to survey people in Sweet Home.

“We look at it, and we think we know what the community needs,” Cahill said. “But it’s always valuable to go back out and ask the community. And we did that. When we put this all together on this campus, you’ll see that we’ve met the five needs that the city of Sweet Home and city council named as the five initiatives around health care in 2020.”

He drew attention to the campus’ helipad feature.

“Having [one] here will help the timber industry, and will help folks that have an accident or get injured between here and Hoodoo,” he said.

Samaritan Health Services board chairman Milt Moran certainly knows a lot about the timber industry himself as president of Cascade Timber Consulting.

“We knew that we had to do something here in Sweet Home to get more folks in and get them the care that they need,” he said of the new clinic. “We know that this will make Sweet Home a better place to live.”

“Sweet Home Fire and Ambulance District has been the primary care provider for a lot of folks in Sweet Home,” he added. “They did a great job, and they still do a great job, but that’s just not sustainable.

“Samaritan stepped up, our board of directors stepped up, and our community stepped up. It’s a great project. I especially want to thank Sweet Home for allowing us to be able to do what we’re doing here. I think it’s a great opportunity, and I’m super-excited about seeing this thing go up.”

Mayor Greg Mahler said, “This day would not have come to fruition if it had not been for the hard work, endless hours and dedication of Samaritan Health. Sweet Home is blessed to have such a great partner like Samaritan Health for all our medical needs.”

He then selected a quote from Benjamin Franklin: “Without continual growth and progress, such words as improvement, achievement, and success have no meaning.”

“This will be a tremendous addition to our great town. I’m proud of what we have accomplished. This is just the start of many great things to come for the citizens of our community,” he said.

Vanessa Cornwall, constituent services director for Representative Peter DeFazio, delivered a message from the congressman, who was unable to attend because he was traveling out of state.

“I am proud to have helped secure funding in the House-passed appropriations bill for construction of the Sweet Home Clinic and Urgent Care,” DeFazio stated. “I urge my colleagues in the Senate to include it in the final bill. Throughout my career, I have consistently pushed to expand health care coverage across my district, at one point even fighting to reclassify certain urban hospitals as rural hospitals, so they could qualify for increased federal reimbursement.

“No one should be forced to travel long distances, rearrange their day and work schedule, or rush to find childcare to get basic care,” he added. “Expanding critical care to almost 11,000 residents in Sweet Home, including those un-or-under insured, will fill a need for services in East Linn County. Southwestern Oregon has a strong and resilient health care workforce, but it’s important that we continue to expand the number of care sites to maintain educational and residential opportunities, as well as comprehensive health care for all.”

Dr. Juliette Asuncion, family physician at Sweet Home Family Medicine and Samaritan’s primary care medical director for Lebanon, Sweet Home and Brownsville, spoke glowingly of coming improvements, specifically its growth.

“The team at Sweet Home Family Medicine is so excited to finally get an upgrade,” she said. “Although we are so thankful for our current space, which holds a lot of history and charm, we look forward to being able to take care of our patients with a new state-of-the-art facility.

“Patient care and patient experience were always at the top of mind in the design meetings for the new clinic,” she continued. “Space has been one of the biggest limiting factors in being able to provide adequate care to our ever-growing patient population. With this new building, we will have larger, more standardized exam rooms. They will be more wheelchair accessible, and their layout was designed with ease of patient care in mind. Even the exam tables will better accommodate patients with limited mobility, or those who have balance issues.”

Asuncion then addressed increased recruitment and remote capabilities.

“With this new facility, we will finally be able to recruit more clinicians to our practice,” she said, “and possibly plan a rotating remote clinic for specialists within Samaritan to see our patients a few times a year.

“As we know, the pandemic caused us to be more innovative in the way we provide care to our patients,” she continued. “One tool we have been using is telemedicine. However, not everyone has internet access or a video-capable device. So we plan to have telemedicine rooms equipped with this technology available for our patients to be able to schedule to connect with specialty. There’s so much potential for this kind of collaborative care.

“We’re also excited to be able to provide an urgent care clinic,” Asuncion noted. “We know that medical issues can happen outside of regular and walk-in clinic hours. We are looking forward to recruiting more clinicians to help with this need in our community.

“Lastly, we are very pleased to bring Samaritan pharmacy services to Sweet Home,” she said. “We have all felt the burden of one of our pharmacies closing in town. This has meant longer wait times for prescription fills or refills, or having to transfer medications outside of Sweet Home. We are looking forward to working with our pharmacists to provide this service and improve access.

“There is so much potential for this new space and we are excited for the opportunity to bring more services into the Sweet Home community,” she concluded.

Samaritan Health Services President and CEO Doug Boysen reflected on the past and looked toward the future.

“The last two and a half years have been difficult in health care,” he said. “It’s been difficult for all of us.”

However, he noted, “I’m so grateful that we’re able to move forward with this project and respond to those needs [outlined by residents of the city]. I grew up in a rural town in Iowa that was half the size of Sweet Home. I understand how important a project like this is to a rural community. We’re now going to have a state of the art space that will allow us to improve access to necessary services in the community.”

“It’s a special group here in Sweet Home,” he said of the Sweet Home Family Medicine staff. “Their culture is awesome. They work well together. They’re world class. And now they’re finally going to be in a world class facility.”

Boysen emphasized that supporters have donated $1.5 million to date for this project, and Samaritan persisted despite struggles.

“It would have been really easy to pause on this project, believe me,” he said, citing the pandemic, plus rising supply chain costs, inflation and construction costs. “But our board has not wavered on this project once.”