Editor’s note: This is part two of a series on National Health Center Week which recognizes centers around the country that serve low income patients, whether they are uninsured or under-insured and no one is turned away because they can’t pay.
Two community health centers in Douglas County are part of 9,000 nationwide which provide health care for over 25 million Americans.
The Umpqua Community Health Center based in Roseburg, with four other locations around the county, in Sutherlin, Myrtle Creek, Glide and a school-based clinic at Roseburg High, had over 45,000 visits from 13,331 patients in 2016, and that number is expected to climb near 60,000 visits in the near future.
The South River Community Health Center in Winston has also picked up up a lot of the health care need in the Winston, Dillard, Green, Tenmile, and Camas Valley areas, as well as other parts of southern Douglas County and even some patients from the Roseburg area. It serves approximately 5,000 patients at the facility.
Dr. John Gardin, chief of behavioral medicine at South River, got involved when Bruce Piper, the director of Adapt at the time, asked him to establish a medical clinic and create a strong behavioral medicine component in Winston.
Gardin did, and eventually, was able to get a grant that helped develop the center into a rural health clinic that allowed them to bill at a higher rate for Medicaid patients, to cover services to those who couldn’t pay.
“Once we were a rural health clinic, we decided we would try to become a Federally Qualified Health Center and we became a full grantee in about 2010,” Gardin said.
When the old Riverside Center property became available, at 671 S. Main St., Winston, South River officials were able to successfully negotiate with the city of Winston and the owner of the property.
The center was remodeled to accommodate a dental clinic to go along with the primary care clinic. Since then, the center has expanded, growing from two full-time providers and a part-time medical director to six full-time primary care providers and eight behavioral medicine staff. The total number of employees fluctuates between about 50 and 60.
“South River is growing steadily and we have a strong support in the community. We’re well staffed with a full-time medical director,” Gardin said. “We’re all geared up and ready to offer services, some of which are unique to medical services in Douglas County.
The impact in south and western Douglas County has been significant.
Gardin is proud of the success they’ve had with a program for patients that have opiate addiction. He said over 100 patients are enrolled in treatment, and they have specialized behavioral medicine programs for diabetes and for pain. They also have plans to assist UCHC with its medically assisted treatments for for patients with opiate problems.
South River, just as UCHC does, takes any patients who need primary care services, regardless of ability to pay, insurance or not. It has a sliding scale for people with limited means, and indigents are also accepted.
Gardin said South River and the UCHC work together on many issues.
“Our medical director and their medical director meet on a regular basis, and we have plans to assist them with their own plans for medical assisted treatment,” Gardin said. “We are working quite closely together with them, and with the tribe.”
In the future, Gardin would like to see a lot more collaborating between the clinics. He feels it would be beneficial to everyone.
“We’ve put a lot of resources into developing our behavioral medicine program and our medically assisted treatment programs for opioid problems, and we’re looking for ways to spread that knowledge to UCHC and to the tribe,” Gardin said.
Dr. Joseph Amavisca, a primary care doctor at the Roseburg clinic, likes working in a community health center.
“I like the people and I love knowing that I am serving the community,” Amavisca said. “It’s something I really believe in, it’s something I want to see progress, I want to see the final outcome of what we’re transitioning into.”
UCHC requires at least half of its board members to also be patients at the clinic. Board member Andrea Minor gets health care there and said that was one of the best things the board has done.
“They are the eyes and ears and they’re there because we need to know if they encounter a problem and we want them to speak up,” Minor said. “We’re always striving to have that opinion.”
The future for both South River and Umpqua Community Health Centers looks solid.
“We hope that the funding stream continues from the federal and through the state with Medicaid, but UCHC is in a position where we will provide care,” Galster said.
The uncertainty of the Affordable Care Act is a concern for both clinics, but both South River and UCHC feel poised to handle it whichever direction it goes.
“For us, it would have an impact financially if the original republican proposal came into play, about a 15 to 20 percent cut, but it certainly wouldn’t close the doors,” Bolton said.
“The federal government has been positioning the Federally Qualified Health Care system to be the place that alcohol and drug treatment and mental health treatment occurs in the entire country,” Gardin said. “So I don’t believe we’re going to see a significant change in funding as it would impact FQHCs.”