Elgin's health care crisis

October 24, 2007 12:00 am

ELGIN — Over the past several years the news around health care has really picked up. First there was news of a serious shortage of nurses and people who held an LPN or RN license were getting high dollars to move to other areas. Now the news is not just focusing on the nurse shortage but the physician shortage as well.

In Union County we have seen a dramatic change in physicians coming and going from our communities. It seems like we are in a tragic cycle of new doctors who take on new patients, relieve some of the burden on the longtime physicians and then in the next instant, they are gone. This cycle is doing nothing but burning out the health care system in Union County.

Elgin now faces the tragedy of the cycle's end unless something can be done to save the clinic.

OHSU is planning on closing the doors of the Elgin Clinic Dec. 31 with no chances of extending the closure date. OHSU's president has said that due to financial issues and the lack of providers in the area they have no other choice.

There are many people in Elgin who are low-income, disabled adults and senior citizens who can't afford to travel to another community for health care services. The closure of the clinic will mean that people who can't afford to drive to health care services or who don't have transportation will most likely not receive any health care services at all.

Elgin is not the only community that receives services from the clinic. People from Wallowa County, Summerville, Imbler and even La Grande use the clinic. Taking that service away will devastate this community not only for the people who use the service but it will hurt the infrastructure of our community. The possibilities of economic development will slowly diminish.

Many of the physicians in La Grande are not taking new patients and it is extremely difficult for people to find a primary doctor if they don't already have one. The overflow of people who don't have a regular doctor use the clinic as their primary health care.

OHSU's plan is to direct people to the Union Clinic, which will do nothing more than shift the burden to another community. Traveling to Union is at least a 45-minute commute one way for people in Elgin and the roads in the winter time won't allow for much travel.

My prediction is that the Union clinic will become overloaded and will eventually have to limit the amount of people it can see. More and more people who need regular health care services will wait until they are sick enough to seek the emergency room.

OHSU giving the community until Dec. 31 is not an acceptable amount of time for people to get together and be proactive about the closure. What we are doing now is being reactive and working under immense pressure to maintain this service for our community. To be effective we need more time to come up with a logical plan to keep this service.

I have already asked OHSU to extend the closure date to at least Dec. 31, 2008, so that we have enough time to get all the necessary players to the table and get the problem solved. Their answer was they can't do that and the planned closure date will be the end of December.

The Elgin City Council and community members have set up an ad hoc committee to start to work on this vital issue. The first meeting of this group will be Oct. 30 at 6 p.m. at the Elgin City Council chambers.

We need people from all communities who utilize the clinic to pull together and help us so that the health care burden isn't shifted from one community that desperately needs the service to another community that will by no fault of its own suffer the consequences of this action.

If you want to be on the committee to find a solution, send an e-mail with your contact information to This e-mail address is being protected from spam bots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it and show up at the meeting on Oct. 30.

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