The New Era - All about Sweet Home since 1929

By Sean C. Morgan
Of The New Era 

Council-Samaritan talks begin about Sweet Home's medical needs


March 29, 2016

Samaritan Health Services is interested in getting more involved in Sweet Home, although it has yet to reveal many details publicly.

Samaritan Health Services CEO Larry Mullins and Samaritan Lebanon Community Hospital CEO Marty Cahill met earlier this month as part of an ad hoc City Council subcommittee that included councilors Dave Trask, Greg Mahler and Mayor Jim Gourley as well as Planning Services Manager Laura LaRoque and City Manager Craig Martin. Sweet Home resident Bob Dalton also is a part of the committee.

Trask and Mahler are also longtime volunteers with the Sweet Home Fire and Ambulance District.

The committee formed in the wake of Samaritan’s decision to close the Wiley Creek Assisted Living Facility and open a drug treatment facility there. In response to protests from members of the Sweet Home community and family and friends of residents, Samaritan reversed the decision and then appeared before the City Council. The council formed the committee in cooperation with Samaritan to help improve communication about what Samaritan is doing and what the community would like to see Samaritan do.

Mullins said that Samaritan is a private nonprofit business and makes its own decisions, and the committee can serve in an advisory capacity.

“We always have believed that a key part of our organization is interacting with the communities that we have the privilege of serving and trying to help them not only benefit from our clinical activities that we offer but also our economic activities,” Mullins told the committee, noting that Lebanon has been an example of this in recent years.

“We like to believe, and I think we can demonstrate, it’s been a pretty significant economic driver for that community as well, and part of the reason we really believe that and kind of incorporated into our system direction is that we know how important it is in all the communities that we’re in that we be actively engaged in ensuring as best we can and contributing to the economic well-being of those communities as well as their healthcare well-being because they’re linked,” Mullins said.

The model includes businesses like the hotel and restaurant in Lebanon as alternative revenue sources for Samaritan, Mullins said. When those kinds of businesses provide enough revenue, Samaritan can develop more on-mission projects.

While Samaritan is working on plans for a drug treatment facility elsewhere, it is interested in addressing concerns and bringing some of its new developments to Sweet Home, he said. Among them, Samaritan is seeking a grant to help build affordable housing here or in Lincoln County.

Responding to Mullins’ comments, committee members acknowledged a need for affordable housing in Sweet Home.

“I think we have the potential to develop at that site or other sites within the community very successfully going forward,” Mullins said. Samaritan is evaluating and planning what could happen in Sweet Home, whether it might be an urgent care, new clinics or other projects tied in with other public service agencies.

A decade ago, Samaritan’s Lebanon campus was a grass seed farm, Mullins said.

“What it presented to us was open land, open space on which to try different things out. That’s one of the things I’d like to get out of a group like this – is to say, ‘Hey, this is what we’re thinking. What are you thinking?’”

Going forward, Mullins said, Samaritan will need support, possibly in developing renewal districts to help it recover its development expenses as well as support through zoning, planning and permitting.

The council will do what it can to make something happen here in Sweet Home, Trask said. At SHFAD, officials have concerns regarding emergency medical services.

“We have few options,” Trask said. “We have to travel maybe an hour to go from here to there.”

Around town, “I’m glad we have urgent care here, and they’re good,” Trask said. “I think the facilities aren’t what they could be, and I have concerns about the retention of doctors. I had six doctors in the last 20 years, all good doctors.”

But they leave town, he said. It’s the same problem Sweet Home has had with police officers and medics.

Mullins said that Samaritan hires 100 new doctors annually, noting that retention is an issue across the organization. It’s something he hopes the new medical school in Lebanon may help address.

Mahler noted that SHFAD is one of the largest fire districts in the State of Oregon, extending into the Santiam Pass along Highway 20 and a few miles back up Highway 22 toward Salem.

“It’s a pretty substantial region.”

And based on feedback from the community, Sweet Home would “love to have a drug rehab facility,” he said. “There’s not a question about that.”

Also based on feedback, the urgent care at Sweet Home Clinic is “not quite as adequate as it needs to be,” Mahler said. “We’d like to see it bigger.”

Sweet Home would like to see more physical therapy and stroke rehabilitation facility connected to the assisted living facility, Mahler said. A heliport at an urgent care facility would also be helpful.

He said that air ambulance services are activated about two dozen times a year.

At that rate, Mullins said, a heliport would be justified.

“I think everything you said is exactly right on,” Mullins said. These are good ideas, and EMS concerns are a priority.

“I’m confident this year we can identify some areas of collaboration,” he said.

He told councilors that if they can meet with him in a discreet environment, apart from a public meeting, he could talk more openly about some of Samaritan’s plans.

“And if you’re in support of them, we’ll push on them.”

The committee will meet next at 6:30 p.m. on April 18 in the City Council chamber.


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