Elgin needs health district

By Carmen Gentry October 24, 2008 02:21 pm

ELGIN — A health district is a municipal corporation. It exists with the specific purpose of providing some type of health service. Like other local governments, health districts have legal and ethical obligations.

Health districts receive tax revenues based on the voter-approved permanent rate per $1,000 in assessed property value within the defined geographic area. Most importantly, a health district is governed by a publicly elected board. The decisions regarding services and community accessibility come from local decisions. The board makes and maintains local control over the clinic.

If having a medical clinic in Elgin is truly important to the residents, they will have to vote for the district and have it pass. This will provide a baseline of funding that would be enough to keep the clinic stable. The other revenue from billing would be enough to keep someone interested in running the clinic here and the doors open more often.

It is 21 miles to the nearest hospital. There is no pharmacy in Elgin, which had a population of 2,425 in 2007. Of that number, 16.9 percent are citizens over the age of 65. Public transportation is available two times per week.

For every 1,000 births in Elgin and in Oregon from 2001 through 2005, 69 had a low birth weight in Elgin compared to 59.4 statewide. Sixty-nine pregnancies received inadequate prenatal care in Elgin compared to 54.8 statewide. The teen birth rate in Elgin is 181 per 1,000 births, compared to the statewide rate of 93.5.

From 2001 to 2005, mortality rates were taken. Of 100,000 deaths, 305.2 were caused by cancer in the Elgin service area compared to 194.6 in Oregon. In Elgin, 222.7 died of heart disease. Statewide the average is 187.6. During the same period of time, 82.5 died of unintended injuries in Elgin; the statewide rate is 37.1.

Elgin’s plan for health care

Clearly, this data is alarming, both in terms of remoteness from services and an aging population that is poorer than rural Oregon, as well as the obvious health needs of the community. The community is taking responsibility to meet these challenges. Leaders are working to establish a local health district. OHSU offered less than .75 FTE medical providers. The community plans to increase staffing to four days per week and hopes to ultimately add mental health care, dental screening and pharmacy services. With a tax base of 50 cents per $1,000, a modest $100,000 home would pay about $50 per year, certainly less than the fuel costs of repeated trips to La Grande for medical services.


The citizens of Elgin and their advocates have raised more than $117,000 in “bridge funding” — adequate funds to supply minimal services for one full year until the new provider can begin receiving insurance reimbursements and maintain the clinic business.

We need the community to support the health district on the Nov. 4 ballot to prevent the clinic from being unstable in the future.

At the proposed rate of 50 cents per $1,000, the total tax for the Elgin Health District would be $54,733.25.

I encourage everyone in Elgin to vote for the health district. It is critical to keep health services in our community. If the district fails, health services in Elgin are limited at best. The total cost of keeping services in Elgin will cost you less than maintaining the parks in our community.

Carmen Gentry is mayor of Elgin.