Cottage Grove, Health and Wellness

Grove clinic gets funding

COTTAGE GROVE — Last week, rural healthcare advocates celebrated a big win in Cottage Grove — reaching their funding goals for the Federally Qualified South Lane Health Center. The project has been in the works for 16 years and marks a diverse collaboration of federal, state, county and local government partnerships. 

On April 5, the U.S. Department of Agriculture Under Secretary Xochitl Torres Small and Oregon Rep. Val Hoyle announced a $1 million investment in the new rural healthcare clinic and training facility. This grant will be added to the $1.5 million granted through recently retired Rep. Peter DeFazio by a 2021 House appropriations bill.

“We’re helping address educating healthcare workers,” Torres Small said. “We’re helping provide healthy folks who will then go on to produce our food and our fiber. It’s a small investment that will have dramatic results. We recognize that we’ve got to continue to invest in communities like this.”

U.S. Department of Agriculture Under Secretary Xochitl Torres Small. PHOTO BY BOB WILLIAMS

The new health center will serve residents of rural Lane and Douglas counties and train the next generation of health care workers in the fields of dental, nursing, medical assisting, and medical reception.

Hoyle said people in rural communities often face a lack of accessible healthcare services and wait for treatment until a real emergency. A toothache, for example, can quickly turn into something serious that requires a trip to the emergency room.

“We’ll be able to address some of that unmet need before people have to go to the emergency room, while also building our healthcare workforce,” Hoyle said. “This is the kind of solution where people can earn while they learn through our community college system with local support to meet a need, regardless of anyone’s ability to pay.”

Hoyle said efforts to create the clinic span a decade-and-a-half through the expansion of the Affordable Care Act, funding from groups like the Oregon Community Foundation and work with volunteers.

For Alicia Beymer, chief administrative officer for Springfield and Cottage Grove PeaceHealth operations, the clinic will provide a necessary alternative to emergency room services. 

“This is going to reduce our emergency department visits,” she said. “They won’t be coming to us when it’s critical and beyond an ability, maybe to prevent serious outcomes. So that is the blessing that this will give to our community.” 

South Lane County ranks among the top two of Oregon’s highest-need primary care services areas, as identified by the Oregon Office of Rural Health. And according to the Federal Health Resources and Services Administration, the community is classified as a “health professional shortage area” for primary and dental care. According to local officials, the clinic will be instrumental in meeting those needs. 

“Access to healthcare for our entire community directly results in improvements for everybody in the community, regardless of whether they are the ones who are accessing the healthcare directly,” said Heather Buch, Lane County Commissioner, whose district includes Cottage Grove. 

A lengthy list of programs and services are planned for the center, including pediatrics, family planning, alternative medical services such as acupuncture and mindfulness training, integrated oral health care, behavioral health, pharmacist consultations, and maternal and child health programs. 

“The healthiest choice is the easiest choice,” said Jason Davis, Lane County public health official. “And then the last piece is the integrated behavioral part — behavioral is just as critical as primary care.” 

The center plans to use an “integrated behavioral health model,” which will “take a holistic approach to health,” combining both “behavioral, psychiatric and primary care.” It’s estimated to be able to provide access to primary care services for more than 5,000 patients in the community and surrounding area with four primary care practitioners at capacity.

Davis said federal grants were a vital component of the clinic’s funding.

The facility will primarily offer medical and dental care to people on Medicaid and Medicare, many of whom travel to Eugene for medical services or don’t have a primary care provider.

The new clinic will be located inside a renovated wing of Lane Community College (LCC) at 1275 South River Road, next to Cottage Grove High School. This location will provide convenient access for students to primary care and dental services and function as a health and dental care training site for South Lane School District and LCC students.

According to officials, LCC students will be instrumental in delivering medical care to patients at the clinic. 

Stephanie Bulger, LCC president. PHOTO BY BOB WILLIAMS

The facility “will provide internships, clinical practice and on-the-job training opportunities in an active clinic, and will provide stackable credential opportunities to move an individual up the career ladder,” said Stephanie Bulger, LCC president. 

Grant Matthews, LCC’s assistant vice president for CTE and workforce development, said there has been talk of high school-level healthcare courses using the clinic space. These ideas are still in the early stages, but LCC will seek College Now, dual credit and CTE courses that could benefit from the center.

Along with high school instructors, local healthcare partners, and the federally qualified health clinic, LCC instructors and preceptors will provide education and guidance in the clinics.

Matthews estimated that a couple of LCC students in each field —  nursing, medical assistance, medical reception, etc. — could be accommodated in clinicals each term. For dental students, the number will likely be about a dozen.

“This partnership will provide an on-ramp for high school students to good paying jobs and provide career exposure and dual credit opportunities,” Bulger said.

Making the health center a reality has been a broad collaboration between many local groups as well, like SLSD, Be Your Best, South Lane Mental Health, and The Oregon Community Foundation. Last year, the Cottage Grove City Council donated $100,000 to the project. 

The clinic is expected to open “mid to late 2024,” according to Lane County Health and Human Services, which will operate the facility.