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Samaritan to look at options to better serve SH’s health


February 28, 2017

A Samaritan Health official last week told fellow members of the Sweet Home Health Care Committee that the organization will begin looking into various options to better serve the Sweet Home community.

The committee held its monthly meeting on Feb. 13. Members attending were Councilor Lisa Gourley, Mayor Greg Mahler, former Mayor Jim Gourley, Bob Dalton, City Manager Ray Towry and Rob Mullins, director of business development, for Samaritan Health Services.

The committee formed last year in an effort to identify and address healthcare issues in Sweet Home. The city, Chamber of Commerce, Samaritan and other organizations partnered to begin an annual health fair and held the first one last September.

Picking up on its conversation in January, the committee discussed expansion of healthcare services in Sweet Home and discussed long- and short-term goals.

“I think what I’ll do is have ... some conversation about urgent care, (an emergency department), clinic expansion, memory care,” Mullins told the committee following the discussion. “I think the biggest thing is looking at it all, capturing the people that are going out of the area, talking to REACH.”

Mullins quizzed committee members about the current situation in Sweet Home and then about what its members would like to see. The response was a litany of complaints.

“The clinic is well-overwhelmed,” Mahler said. “From what I hear, it’s hard to get in if you need to get in at all.”

He said citizens are frustrated.

“I don’t think Lebanon is seeing all the patients that come (through) here. I think they’re going to Riverbend. They’re going to Salem. They’re going to a lot of places, and Lebanon’s getting overwhelmed.

“I look at Stayton, and they’ve got a hospital. Stayton’s population, it’s either right at us or maybe a little bit less when they’ve got a major hospital within a short driving distance in Salem.”

“We do have a lot of people that are going out of town for medical services,” Jim Gourley agreed.

Lisa Gourley said local residents have experienced long waits.

“They’re used to not getting a lot of services there because if you make a doctor’s appointment, you’re weeks out,” Lisa Gourley said. “So they don’t associate that with quick care.

“I can drive out to Junction City,” she said. “I’ll make an appointment that day. They’ll get me in within minutes of getting there. I see a doctor. They’re all very qualified people, so that’s where I send my friends to. You don’t have a long waiting period. They’ll see you that day. They’re amazing. Why would we do anything else?”

Towry, who started work in Sweet Home in November, reported a similar experience.

“My daughter went over there (to Lebanon),” Towry said. “She’s got dual ear infections. We went to urgent care there, and It was a two-hour wait to get in. My wife’s comment was we would’ve been off driving to Corvallis or someplace else.”

“I’ve been told they’re being turned away when they go down there,” Mahler said. “They’re too crowded, too busy.”

Dalton said doctors often do not stay long in Sweet Home.

“It’s hard to get a physician here locally because they’re small, so they end up going out,” he said.

Mahler, a longtime volunteer with the Sweet Home Fire and Ambulance District, noted that the distances involved in reaching area hospitals from Sweet Home contribute to higher ambulance costs.

“What’s going to happen with our ambulances, it’s going to catch up to us,” he said. “We were so fortunate during this last year, we had a private citizen that dropped $100,000 on our doorstep and we were able to buy an ambulance. The problem is if we hadn’t had that, we were going to have some problems.”

Sweet Home’s fire district is the largest in the state, Mahler said. At nearly 1,100 square miles, the district averages at least three REACH Air Ambulance flights per month, and employs 13 paid staff members and about 60 volunteers from three substations and a main station.

The ambulances put on 60,000 miles per year, Mahler said.

According to SHFAD reports, the district responded to a total of 2,601 calls in 2016, including 2,293 medical calls and 308 fire calls, down from a record 2,792 total calls in 2014.

Mahler said the district serves about 16,000 residents. On top of those, committee members pointed out that during the tourist season local lakes, rivers and campgrounds dramatically increase the number of people in the area.

In the week and a half previous to last week’s meeting, the district handled seven or eight cardiac calls, Mahler said.

Those patients must be stabilized at Lebanon before gong on to Corvallis, Jim Gourley said, and facilities to do that in Sweet Home would help.

“Do you feel that if there was an urgent care, people wouldn’t call 9-1-1, they’d just go to urgent care?” Mullins asked.

“Number one, they would go to urgent care and drop down calls on the ambulance, which is a good thing,” said Jim Gourley. “Number two, some of the ambulance calls even at that would be able to take them to urgent care so they wouldn’t be putting the miles on over to Lebanon.”

“Urgent care would be an awesome addition,” Mahler said.

Mullins asked if the committee were familiar with the urgent care clinic in Brownsville. Jim Gourley said it would have to be about 10 times the size of that one.

“It’s a small one, and we’re at capacity on that now,” Mullins said. “It was more of a test model than anything else.”

“Just looking at population, health and those kind of things, it would be extremely difficult for a hospital to sustain in a smaller town, being so close to other hospitals,” Mullins said. “That’s not saying it can’t work.”

“Really, what we need is urgent care with the ability to have a emergency ER room if needed,” Jim Gourley said. “If you need to stabilize somebody before you put them on REACH, you’d have a place where you could put somebody.”

Mullins countered that it was unlikely that an ambulance crew would stop at urgent care to get somebody stabilized “because you’re not going to have the capabilities to stabilize someone before you go to a Corvallis or a Eugene or something like that.”

But, he added, “there is a model that is kind of a urgent care, ER, stabilization. What you want is you want something that makes a robust clinic that is somewhat of an urgent care that can stabilize like an (emergency department).”

Samaritan could grow at its Wiley Creek property, Jim Gourley said. It has the space, and it could add memory care facilities for senior citizens there as well.

Last month Marty Cahill, CEO of Samaritan Lebanon Community Hospital, told the committee that Samaritan could potentially expand hours at Sweet Home Family Medicine.

Dalton told Mullins that expanding hours on Saturday and in the evening would be a reachable goal.

Mullins said he would need to look at the clinic and see what providers were there.

“It sounds like they’re getting overwhelmed,” he said. “Their staffing model is probably based on the size of the clinic.”

The committee also discussed the possibility of building a permanent helicopter pad to handle air ambulance traffic.

REACH has landed in numerous places around the area, including Rocky Top Bridge (in the Quartzville Corridor), Mahler said.

Lisa Gourley summarized a list of long- and short-term goals for the committee: expanding services, setting up web links for inquiries, combining services into a central area, increasing health education, supporting health fair advertising and capturing services here.

Mahler added to the list urgent care, memory care and a trauma facility in the region.

“We’d love to put a trauma center on I-5,” Mullins said. “The state won’t fund it. We’d have to self-fund like a $500 million project. We’d love to put one there, but typically when you build a hospital or something of that nature, you tend to go to the citizens or the state to do that.”

Dalton who is chairman of the subcommittee planning the 2017 health fair reported that his committee is discussing combining it with the Safety Fair and the bike helmet giveaway. He also has talked to School District officials about using the community pool as well as involving high school students, and the committee is discussing a 5k or 10k run, among other ideas.

The healthcare committee meets next at 6 p.m. on March 20 in the City Council chamber, located behind City Hall, 1140 12th Ave. The meeting is open to the public.


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