At the Roseburg City Council meeting Monday, councilors questioned lobbyists who worked to obtain state funding for a proposed allied and mental health college in Roseburg.
It was the first time lobbyists with Pac/West Communications have addressed city officials since the Oregon State Legislature allocated more than $10 million for the college. Partners working on the $30 million project said efforts to acquire full funding from other institutions and agencies are just beginning.
City councilors sought reassurances that people in multiple organizations would secure full funding for the project after the state allotted $5 to $10 million less than what partners requested. They also asked for additional information about the project’s next steps.
In his introduction, Ryan Tribbett, one of Pac/West’s lead Salem lobbyists, told councilors the Legislature’s funds show officials statewide acknowledge there is a medical workforce shortage in Southern Oregon. Advocates for the college have long said students are substantially more likely to find work close to where they graduate.
The college would be operated by George Fox University and it would offer bachelor’s and advanced degrees in nursing, psychology, counseling, physical therapy and other fields.
CHI Mercy Medical Center and the Roseburg Veteran’s Affairs Hospital operate with 40% and 16% vacancy rates for nurse practitioners, respectively, according to an economic feasibility study for the college by consulting firm ECONorthwest. Mercy and the VA have 33% and 20% vacancy rates for social workers, respectively, as well as 19% and 9% vacancy rates for physical therapists. They also each have a 16% vacancy rate for registered nurses. The study used data from 2008 for Mercy and data from 2018 for the VA.
Data from the Oregon Center for Nursing and the Oregon Employment department show recruitment of health care professionals will be an increasing problem statewide in the next decade.
The college would produce more than $38 million in economic benefits to the region over the next 20 years, including $21.5 million for reductions in preventable hospitalizations and $14.4 million for reductions in hospital readmissions, the study said.
In May, the City of Roseburg agreed to pay up to $10 million in loaned stopgap funding to establish the college. Since 2013, the City of Roseburg has contributed $70,000 to the project, including two economic feasibility studies. The city also agreed in April to abate at least $400,000 in systems development charges for the construction of the college.
At Monday’s meeting, Mayor Larry Rich asked Pac/West’s lobbyists why the project received less than what was requested from the state.
“I’m happy it’s $10 (million), we’ve got something, but I was just curious, $20 was the goal, $15 would be the lowest, what happened?” Rich asked.
Phillip Scheuers, a lobbyist with Pac/West, replied: “Politics played out. At the end of the session, capital construction is usually where leadership finds votes for bills they need.”
Scheuers said projects in the Portland-metro area and courthouse upgrade projects took away from the total amount of money for a long list of projects.
Rich asked to see a list of the projects that received funding.
“How is it broken down, is it Republican, Democrat-dominated one side or the other,” he said.
The $10 million provided for the college from lottery bonds was the second-largest single amount of money given through the Oregon Department of Administrative Services. The Eugene Family YMCA received $15 million.
Eighteen of the 44 projects were in rural communities.
Ten out of the 44 DAS projects were in the Portland-metro area, the majority of which were for health care or educational nonprofits. The largest sum given to Portland-area projects was $5 million to the Beaverton Hoop YMCA.
“Through hell or high water, I think we’ll get this project together,” said City Council President Tom Ryan. But he followed up by asking the Pac/West lobbyists what could go wrong.
Scheuers said he’s seen some communities violate the terms of their DAS agreement for the funds by trying to change what the money would be used for.
“I’ve also seen it where ... it’s caused problems, where all of a sudden communities started fighting, and it becomes a hot topic, the dollars aren’t spent by the time the next biennium comes around and the dollars aren’t reauthorized,” Scheuers said.
He said Roseburg, which will be the recipient of the state funds, must stick to the terms of the DAS agreement, but that DAS offers assistance for cities to do that.
City Councilor Ashley Hicks asked Ryan what additional sources of funding for the project have been identified. Ryan is part of the Umpqua Economic Development Partnership, the organization that produced Oregonians for Rural Health, which is leading efforts to establish the college.
Ryan said the partnership is raising money but didn’t specify where the money would come from. He added he isn’t sure what would happen if the project can only get $25 million.
Interim City Manager Nikki Messenger interjected to say the city has talked about the project being scalable to accommodate variable amounts of initial funding.
“But what I’ve heard lately is we have more partners wanting to come on and bring more programs, so we want to make sure we don’t scale it back too far that we can’t provide everything,” she said.
Before concluding, City Councilor Brian Prawitz urged the Pac/West lobbyists to “Please land the plane.”