MYRTLE CREEK — When patients see family nurse practitioner Don Bons at the Umpqua Community Health Center’s Myrtle Creek clinic, more than likely he will be wearing a hat and jeans. Maybe that’s why many see him as a laid-back plain talker who speaks their language and likes living in Douglas County.
“This is how I look when I see my patients every day, I wear a hat and jeans,” Bons said. “I was a diesel mechanic a long time before I was ever a nurse, so the clients that come here, I can relate to them.”
Jane Schad of Myrtle Creek likes the convenience of a clinic in her community, but appreciates a health care provider who speaks to her level.
“He is fantastic,” said Schad, who had multiple health issues when she moved from Klamath Falls. “He talks to me in terms that I can understand and he makes sure I’ve got the care I need.”
There is never a shortage of patients at the UCHC Myrtle Creek Health Clinic. They come from a wide area throughout southern Douglas County, all the way to the Drain-Yoncalla area, and even some from the coast.
The big challenge for the clinic and all rural facilities in Oregon, is getting health care providers to work in those areas.
“Just keeping them properly staffed is the biggest thing, although we do have stability in Myrtle Creek right now,” said KC Bolton, CEO of UCHC. “But you just have to make sure you are constantly prioritizing them for key staffing.”
Bons has worked in metropolitan areas, but he likes the rural setting, and he knew full well that there would be challenges in Myrtle Creek.
“The biggest difference is resources,” Bons said. “For staff, it’s easy to find people to work here, but for providers, it’s hard finding someone who wants to be down here just to take care of this population, and wants to invest in this community.”
Bon said compensation for health care providers at the Myrtle Creek clinic isn’t far out of line with other organizations.
The demand is high — providers seen an average of 20 to 24 patients a day. Bons is responsible for over 2,000 patients, which is more than any other provider in Umpqua Community Health Center’s organization.
The most common ailment that brings people to the clinic is diabetes, and they can treat most of those cases right there.
“The big ones are diabetes, hypertension, depression, alcoholism, drug use and mental health,” he said. “You see a lot of kidney disease, a lot of liver failure, and I’ve diagnosed a lot of lung cancer down here.”
Most of the staff lives in the Myrtle Creek-Riddle area, so they are a part of the community they serve and Bons encourages them to get involved.
“I take a lot of ownership in this clinic because I’m the only full-time provider here, and my goal is for UCHC to be more of a community partner,” Bons said.
Bons, who lives in Riddle, feels it’s important for the community to know that the employees are also part of the community and that they are available when they are needed.
“Many of my patients know exactly where I live, and some of them actually stop by and make a house call, and it becomes very much like that small town doc type of thing,” Bons said.
Paula Cramer is a family nurse practitioner who works with Bons. She came from the VA Hospital and normally works at the clinic two days a week, doing a lot of urgent care work.
“We operate like a family,” Cramer said. “It’s really close and personal. There are patients that haven’t been able to make it to the clinic, so we’ve actually gone to their homes.”
Heather Strause, is a clinically certified medical assistant and licensed practical nurse, working toward her nursing degree at Umpqua Community College. She wants to become a nurse practitioner, and she is excited about the growth they’ve had.
“We’ve expanded the staff because of the mental health and reproductive health that we’re doing here, and we’re outgrowing this building,” Strause said.
The mental health services are provided by Tim Rogers, a drug and alcohol counselor and licensed professional counselor. He will be doing a lot of the addiction recovery work with patients.
“We try to provide a broad spectrum of services here,” said Bons. “We’re just getting set to start some addictions treatment here.”
If not for the convenience of the clinic, Myrtle Creek providers many might decline to make the longer trip to Roseburg to a care provider, and let conditions go untreated.
“Yeah, they would,” Bons said. “Many of our patients don’t have the resources to go and see providers up there.”
Sara Downard said her boyfriend won’t go to a hospital, but he does relate to Bons. And to have the clinic so close makes it valuable for her mother, boyfriend, two children and herself.
“To have medical literally with five minutes of the house, is very valuable to me,” Downard said.
Tony Lunceford of Myrtle Creek, has been using the clinic for the past six years and he said he felt at ease the first time he went to see Bons.
“He’s a right down-home doctor, he knows what he’s doing and I like him,” Lunceford said.
“It would have been tough if it hadn’t been for the clinic and their care, it made it really easy,” said Schad. “It is tremendously valuable.”
Bons feels the need will continue to grow in rural areas like Myrtle Creek and southern Douglas County.
“In one way, shape or form, we’re here to stay,” said Bons. “Before OHP and Obamacare, we were in Douglas County taking care of people that didn’t have resources so we’re still going to be taking care of those.”
“Our goal is if patients come in and really need something, we’re going to take care of them,” Bons said. “We’re just a small-town clinic, so we’re going to treat you like that.”