Healthcare provider vows to maintain look and feel of clinic

As of April 1, Sandy's largest medical facility, Firwood Medical Center, has a new name and a new operator.

Portland-based nonprofit medical group Legacy Health System assumed control of the 20-year-old Industrial Way clinic earlier this month, changing the facility's name and vowing to add staff, maintain the clinic's atmosphere and explore expansions in service.

The clinic, now known as Legacy Clinic Firwood, becomes the healthcare system's 11th such community medical center. The agreement to become part of a larger medical organization - in the works for quite some time - was made to preserve the atmosphere and level of service the clinic has developed over the years.

Firwood's former management staff - former owner Dr. Steve Nicholson and his brother, outgoing administrator Paul Nicholson - declined to comment on the switch to Legacy.

'I think Sandy is an important, growing community in our area,' said Will Mowe, Legacy's vice president of clinic operations. 'The clinic sees more than 20,000 patient visits per year and has been an important contributor to healthcare (locally). We look forward to continuing the same high standard of care, and on the same personal scale, that residents expect from Firwood.'

When asked what would change about Firwood's new association, Mowe said not much.

There could be some personnel changes, but not in the way of layoffs, Mowe said. All current staff members - including Dr. Nicholson and fellow family practice physician Eric Swiridoff, nurse practitioners Sara Buse and Kim Tinker, and 20 others - will join the medical group's 8,500 full- and part-time employees in the Portland/Vancouver area.

'I don't think doctors Nicholson and Swiridoff would be interested in having us come if we were going to make huge changes,' Mowe said. 'They run a great practice, and we want to take advantage of that, and we want to learn.'

In fact, he said, Legacy plans to eventually hire a third doctor at the clinic and beef up the clinic's support staff.

Legacy is also looking at some facility upgrades in the coming months and years, including a digital X-ray system and converting the clinic to electronic medical records.

As mentioned in the Feb. 28 edition of The Post, Paul Nicholson said he was interested in making Firwood an urgent care-type facility, and hinted that it would only be possible with the backing of a larger health organization. Mowe said Legacy is also interested in offering such services.

'We're considering it - we do it elsewhere,' Mowe said, 'but we haven't done any analysis yet. We hope to grow services, and we're certainly interested in expansion if the community were interested and wanted to support it.'

Other than those additions, a brand-new sign and the fact that Legacy Health System will now be on patients' bills, 'it will be pretty hard for anybody to tell the difference from one day to the next,' Mowe said.

In terms of insurance coverage, Mowe said the clinic will accept any insurance providers that Firwood previously accepted. That doesn't mean there won't be insurance problems, however; patients' health insurance providers may decide they won't allow their patients to use a Legacy facility.

'We're open to any health plan that they're now serving,' Mowe said. 'I think the question is whether those plans decide to make a change based on our change.'

Part of the reason for the switch was the fact that both Nicholson brothers hope to retire in the near future. Legacy is now in the process of recruiting a new manager to replace Paul Nicholson, who most likely will retire from his post before summer, and Dr. Steve Nicholson plans to retire in the next few years.

'I think they were looking at the transition eventually, and it was important to maintain continuity of the clinic,' Mowe said. 'They felt that a larger corporate partner would be more able to recruit replacements and to stabilize the clinic, to make sure it's healthy and stays there. They had an interest in continuing what they started.'

The biggest benefit of the new arrangement, Mowe said, is a guarantee that the practice will continue long after its founders have retired, and the fact that the muscle of a large healthcare organization can be powerful for recruiting doctors.

Legacy Clinic Firwood won't be the health system's largest clinic. The system's two largest - Tualatin, near Legacy Meridian Park Hospital, and Northwest, by Legacy Good Samaritan - employ 10 to 12 physicians each.

'In terms of the number of people they see, however, Firwood is sort of the most productive clinic,' Mowe said. 'They're a great addition, and I'm tickled to have them aboard. We hope to make this transition as seamless as possible for patients and their families.'

Legacy Clinic Firwood is accepting new patients of all ages, including infants, teens and adults, and accepts many insurance plans. The clinic is at 36860 S.E. Industrial Way, at the west end of Sandy, south of Highway 26 near the Fred Meyer shopping center. The phone number remains the same, 503-668-7978. Hours of operation are 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.

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