Officials looking at merger, other funding source to reopen clinic

by: FILE PHOTO - Nurse Chris Foster consults with a patient at Essential Health Clinic in Tigard in 2010. The clinic closed its doors last week citing lack of fundsTigard’s only free urgent care clinic has closed its doors, and not for the first time.

For nearly a decade, Essential Health Clinic has operated an after-hours care clinic for the uninsured out of Washington County Health Clinic’s building on Southwest Royalty Parkway. The clinic stopped seeing patients last week, citing a lack of funds.

“We were certainly hoping that we could keep the doors open,” said the clinic’s interim director, Sue Neal. “This was not something that happened overnight, but we wanted to maintain our services for as long as possible.”

Essential Health Clinic operated two locations out of Washington County offices in Tigard and Hillsboro, providing the area’s low-income and uninsured patients free medical care on Mondays and Thursdays in Hillsboro and Wednesday nights in Tigard.

Doctors and nurses at the clinics treated everything from fevers and asthma to minor burns and injuries. Doctors were able to prescribe medication and refer patients to specialists who could treat their injuries for free.

But when the organization didn’t receive several grants it hoped for, directors made the decision to stop seeing patients.

The Tigard clinic’s last day was Wednesday, March 13. The Hillsboro clinic closed the next day.

But Essential Health Clinic’s position isn’t unique, Neal said.

“It’s no different than what is going on with all the nonprofits,” said Neal, who helped found the organization. “Everyone is struggling to identify a strong enough funding base to keep the doors open. For ‘safety net clinics’ like ours, we are all struggling with that.”

New funding source sought

This is the second time the Essential Health Clinic has closed its doors in Tigard.

In 2010, the clinic shut down for six months, but the organization’s Hillsboro clinic remained open two days a week.

At that time, temporarily closing the Tigard clinic was intended to ensure the future of Essential Health Clinic as a whole. The clinic received help from Rolling Hills Community Church in Tualatin, which donated $66,000 to reopen the clinic.

The one-time donation kept the clinic open for another year, and Essential Health was able to secure enough funding to keep seeing patients for another few years.

This time, Neal said, there would need to be a major change.

“We are hoping to be able to work with some strong community partners to identify a new sustainable funding model for the clinic,” she said.

The group’s board of directors laid out what Neal called an aggressive plan to get the clinics open.

The board will take the next 60 to 90 days to find a way to get patients their care, Neal said.

“Whether that means a new business model, a merger with another nonprofit or some other sort of transition,” Neal said, “we are trying to identify something that can be sustainable.”

Clinic served thousands

Without the clinic, families without insurance often wait until health problems escalate and then go to hospital emergency rooms, which are overcrowded with the uninsured.

Essential Health Clinic opened its first clinic in Hillsboro in 2001. The Tigard location was added in 2006.

The clinic worked with Washington County medical services and was located at the Washington County Tigard Health Clinic, 15296 S.W. Royalty Parkway, near King City.

The Tigard facility, which treated patients Wednesday evenings, saw dozens of patients each night.

About 1,280 people visit the Tigard clinic each year, Neal said.

All told, Essential Health treats about 4,600 patients yearly.

Essential Health has about 180 volunteer doctors and nurses who work at the Tigard and Hillsboro clinics each week. It takes about 25 volunteers each night to put on clinics, Neal said.

“We have a really good, strong volunteer base,” Neal said.

The company’s few paid staff have been laid off, he added.

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