A computer-rendered image of the Community Health Center soon to be built on the Lane Community College campus in Cottage Grove.

COTTAGE GROVE – Momentum for increasing access to health care in rural parts of South Lane County is picking up speed, as the Community Health Center project races toward the finish line in Cottage Grove.

Though around $4.5 million has already been committed to the project, rising costs have held off progress and created its current funding gap of $200,000 for completion of “Phase One.” Phase One of the initiative starts construction on a primary care clinic, while phase two expands those services to include dental care. An official ground-breaking on the Cottage Grove Lane Community College (LCC) site is scheduled for early August. 

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. 

“There’s no clinic in Cottage Grove that specifically serves the Oregon Health Plan population,” said Jason Davis, public information officer for Lane County. “We identified this community as a place that was underserved, and have done the work to support that patient population.” 

Community health centers mainly serve those who have limited access to healthcare, though no one is ever turned away - regardless of their ability to pay. 

“We are focusing on equity,” said Eve Gray, director of Health and Human Services in Lane County. “One in four Cottage Grove residents and one in two local families with children under five live below the federal poverty level. It’s not as easy as driving a half hour to Eugene to see the doctor, it never has been.” 

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. 

“We just wanted to make sure that the community has the right, correct and accurate information,” said Davis. “There was a group who issued a flyer full of the things they thought were wrong about the clinic. And everything on there was false.” The clinic will not be “terminating pregnancies,” “separating teens from parents,” or “violating HIPAA” (the federal law that created national standards to protect sensitive patient health information). 

The Cottage Grove’s Community Health 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.

Making the health center a reality has been a broad collaboration between many groups including Lane Community College, Lane County, South Lane School District, Be Your Best, PeaceHealth and South Lane Mental Health, County Commissioner Heather Buch and Oregon Congressman Peter DeFazio. The Oregon Community Foundation has also been heavily involved in funding.

The Cottage Grove project aims to incorporate such health services into the local Lane Community College (LCC) building on River Road. “We’ll be leasing an LCC building and providing career and technical education (CTE) in conjunction with South Lane School District, and Lane County Community College,” said Gray. “We plan on providing shadowing opportunities for high school students, and LCC students working with us will leave with a nursing license, or their medical assistant certification, and will be able to get a family wage job right when they finish their program.” 

So, what’s next for the Cottage Grove’s Community Health Center project? A distribution plan for Cottage Grove’s $2.3-million American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds was presented to the city council, which included $100,000 towards the Cottage Grove’s Community Health Center. However, the ARPA allocation budget has yet to be approved. 

“The clinic is going to be a tremendous asset for health care in South Lane County and North Douglas County,” said Mike Fleck, Cottage Grove city councilor. “It’ll provide an opportunity for folks who have issues with transportation getting into the metro area for health care.”

Councilors Chalice Savage, Fleck, Jon Stinnett and Greg Ervin declared potential conflicts of interest due to their various connections to nonprofits, groups and businesses which could hypothetically benefit from this vast distribution of funds. At press time, there was no date set to vote on the allocation of the ARPA funds.