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By Alice Perry Linker

Observer Staff Writer

Praising the nurse-practitioner clinics in Union County, the president of Oregon Health & Science University said Thursday the clinics could be vital to research into the value of preventive medicine.

Dr. Peter Kohler, speaking at the annual Rural Health Conference at Eastern Oregon University, said that prevention and healthy lifestyles appear to be the keys to healthy aging.

"An emphasis on prevention is very important as we age," he said. "Can you prove that? We don't have good data; we need the data to show how well this works."

Gathering data on preventive medicine provides an opportunity for a research network that would include the Union and Elgin clinics, he said.

"We hope to get to document how important prevention is for a healthy aging population," he said.

The clinics, too, are important in the care of the very old.

"Dementia is really a problem for people over 85. It affects 50 percent of that population," he said. "They have better quality of life if they age in place — at home or in assisted living," he said. "Rural areas make ideal locations for this kind of aging."

Kohler answered the question posed by the title of his speech, "Who Will Care for Aging Baby Boomers?"

His answer: "Nurses."

"No. We're not ready for this (the aging of the baby boom generation). We need to expand the number who are receiving nursing education," he said. "We can't let squabbles keep this from happening. We need nurses for every place."

The nursing shortage will continue for a time, he predicted, partly because the schools of nursing cannot accept all who apply. Space, cost of staffing and other financial issues keep the numbers lower. Additional faculty is vital.

"We need faculty to educate the educators," he said. "Public opinion is shifting in that direction, and I believe we will finance expansion."

Even if the number of practicing nurses increases, Kohler said, "there probably will not be enough RNs to do the entire thing."

Improved technology will ease the burden of health care, he said, giving the example of a device that will cost about $15 and could eventually replace the MRI. "At first, the microphone in this device cost $1,000. Now it costs about 3 cents," he said.

Kohler predicted that the device, now in the development stage, will be marketable in two to five years.

"Probably a nurse will be able to use it," he said. "The future will see more hand-held devices."

Kohler spoke during the evening banquet of the health conference, a two-day event that is continuing today at Eastern. The theme of the conference is "Healthy Aging and Geriatrics: Caring For Our Baby Boomers and Beyond."

Today's keynote speaker is Christine A. Tanner, professor and associate dean of the undergraduate program of the OHSU School of Nursing. Tanner will discuss the future of nursing education in Oregon.


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