COTTAGE GROVE – As part of a “good faith effort” to support rural access to health care in Cottage Grove, the city council on Monday voted to approve a $100,000 donation to the Lane County federally-qualified health clinic. 

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. 

“This is the first rural community health center clinic,” said Eve Gray, director of Lane County Health and Human Services. “We don't provide adequate services in rural areas in our county, which is really why we're interested in expanding to meet this need.” 

Though around $4.5 million has already been committed to the project the total remaining funding gap is $1.15 million. The county is in the process of applying for a $1 million grant with the USDA to continue to reduce that number. Gray reports this is the first time LCHHS has been able to apply for health funding from the USDA – since this clinic is the first rural clinic in the county's lineup. 

“What we are really doing is serving people who need it, focusing on taking care of this very high-density Medicaid population,” Gray said. 

During the meeting Gray addressed concerns from citizens present, saying the clinic would not provide “abortion services,” “long-term counseling” or “allow walk-ins.”

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 three primary care practitioners at capacity. 

Community health centers like the Cottage Grove federally-qualified health clinic mainly serve those who have limited access to healthcare, and no one is ever turned away – regardless of their ability to pay. 

“One of the huge problems with the healthcare industry is that we're dealing with folks that cannot afford good care, and we aren’t doing preventative work,” said Councilor Mike Fleck. “They go to the emergency room, and it costs more. Our complete health care model is dysfunctional. This clinic is absolutely what we need.” 

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 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.” 

Councilor Candace Solesbee raised concerns about nursing shortages across the country, saying she “didn’t want to pull nurses from an already short-staffed (PeaceHealth) hospital” and called for “fiscal responsibility.” 

“We’ll be hiring a very limited number of nurses,” Gray replied. “And that's why I have a lot of optimism around the ability to train folks locally. The fact that we're building workforce into the model in this clinic is critical though. We absolutely have to build the workforce in our communities.” 

The funding was approved in a 5-2 vote, with Mayor Jeff Gowing, councilors Fleck, Chalice Savage, Jon Stinnett and Kenneth Micheal-Robberts in approval, and councilors Solesbee and Greg Ervin in opposition. 

An official groundbreaking on the Cottage Grove LCC campus is scheduled for the fall, with the clinic slated to open in the spring of 2023.