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County to close Sandy health clinic

Clinics in Molalla, Beavercreek also will be shut down

Fifteen months ago, Clackamas County seemed confident that it would construct a new health services building on its land at the west end of Sandy.

But on Jan. 1, 2009, not only will there be no new facility, the existing clinic will cease operations.

City leaders were briefed Monday, April 7, and the county formally announced Tuesday, April 8, that it plans to close all three of the county's primary care clinics due to budget woes, a decision that will affect nearly 10,500 patients.

'It's a difficult decision, and we believe in the long run that it's the right decision,' Clackamas County Chairwoman Lynn Peterson said in a statement. 'The county's role in delivering certain individual health services is changing, but our commitment to ensuring community access to sustainable primary care will continue.'

The county asserts that providing direct healthcare services is not a financially sustainable practice.

'With costs outpacing revenues, it has grown increasingly challenging for the agency to financially break even in delivering clinic services,' reads a county 'fact sheet' on the closures.

Beyond that, Melinda Mowery, Community Health Division director, says the capital investments that would have to be made to 'do community health services the right way' would be far too great for the county to handle.

'The county is running this on a shoestring budget in terms of what's customary in running a clinic,' Mowery said. Costly investments that would need to be made include an electronic medical records database, administrative restructuring, a new accounting system and facilities upgrades, among other things.

'You line all these factors up, and you take into consideration the fact that across the country community health centers are primarily run by nonprofits, and it's a pretty compelling move for the county,' Mowery said, 'even though it's difficult in the moment.'

More than 2,200 Sandy-are clients - mostly low-income families - used the low-cost, county-run clinic in 2007. Those people will have to travel quite a bit from home for similar services.

Sandy isn't alone; the county plans to close all three of its clinics. The Molalla clinic, which service 1,911 clients last year, will cease operations June 30. Sandy's clinic will close at the end of the year, and the Beavercreek clinic near Oregon City - which serves more than 6,400 patients - is expected to close in 2010 or 2011.

The county plans to transition its health services recipients to clinics run by the nonprofit Yakima Valley Farm Workers Clinic Inc. After the Sandy clinic closes, clients either may transfer their services to the Beavercreek clinic until it closes, seek services from Multnomah County - which Mowery says is already 'inundated' with patients - or become new patients at the Yakima Valley Farm Workers clinic in Southeast Portland.

'There are still a lot of details to be worked out' in the transition, Mowery said. One of the big challenges the county will face is how to transport patients from around the county to the shrinking number of clinics.

Mowery said the county intends to keep administering behavioral health and Women Infants and Children (WIC) services at the current clinic space, but that depends on whether the current rented location remains available and viable.

The future for the 51 full-time and 32 part-time and temporary staff countywide is uncertain. Mowery said the county would try to consolidate personnel from the clinics as they close, but in the end, everyone will need to find new jobs.

'When we close the Sandy clinic, we hope to consolidate as many of those people as possible into Beavercreek,' Mowery said, noting that she expects some staff attrition during the transition.

Quite a shift

The county was poised to break ground on a new clinic in the Pioneer Corporate Park - near the Sandy Cinema - in 2006, but the health division decided to put the project on hold because it wanted to add more services to the facility to serve the growing population.

Mowery told The Post in January 2007 that the original plans for the building wouldn't have included dental or pharmacy services, but 'these are things we're taking a look at now.'

Mowery further stated, 'We're taking a step back, but we're still planning on it, absolutely.'

'That was before they did projections on whether they could afford to operate it,' City Manager Scott Lazenby said.

'When we did the budget for 2006-07 was when the challenges for primary care really revealed themselves clearly to me,' Mowery said. 'When we began to understand what the challenges were and received external consultation, it was increasingly clear that our original projections on how to go forward with the Sandy clinic were not going to stand the test of time.'

Now, it's likely the county will sell the Pioneer Corporate Park land. Adjoining property owners have shown interest in it, Lazenby said.