The new integrated health care facility planned jointly by Wallowa Valley Center for Wellness and Winding Waters Clinic, a non-profit Community Health Center, is $2.5 million closer to reality. Just before their adjournment, the Oregon Legislature passed HB 5030, which contained the $2.5 million appropriation dedicated to the new facility. The bill was sponsored by Sen.Bill Hansell, R-Athena, and Rep. Greg Barreto, R-Cove, and signed by Gov. Kate Brown on Friday. No date for construction has been set, but the $2.5 million appropriation brings the project within striking distance of its $7.1 million dollar goal.

“None of this would be possible without the community,” said Winding Waters Community Health Center Board President Russell Peterson. “When the need arises, the community stands up. We are all together. We are all part of this.” 

Fundraising in Wallowa County has contributed more than $584,000 from two Hearts for Health events and other sources, which helped inspire the legislation.

In the new center, all services will be fully integrated under the same roof, so that people with a dental appointment would be using the same waiting area and same hallways as those seeing a medical doctor, a counselor or other health professional.

The new center is designed to expand, not replace, existing primary medical care in Wallowa County. It will add five medical exam rooms, four additional dental operatories, 22 additional counseling rooms and include space for educational activities and events.

“With veterans comprising more than 15% of Wallowa County’s population, the center is also looking to expand care specifically for veterans,” Winding Waters CEO Nic Powers said.

Importantly, the new center will include facilities for health education, including space for group visits and a teaching kitchen where community groups can host nutritional classes for the full span of ages and skill levels. In addition, a separate meeting/classroom area will accommodate exercise classes, first aid training, meetings and more.

The new facility will also allow expansion of partnerships with west-side primary care programs. Presently, Winding Waters works with the OHSU Family Medicine Residency Program and schools of Medicine, Nursing and Dentistry, and the OSU School of Pharmacy to bring future practitioners to Wallowa County. The Wallowa Valley Center for Wellness has entered into an agreement to be an internship site for George Fox University Mental Health and Behavioral Health providers.

The idea for the integrated health center goes back to 2006 when Steve Kliewer and Dr. Liz Powers met regularly for breakfast to discuss collaborative care and how to serve the whole person — not dividing the head from the body but serving all aspects of a person’s health. “There were notes and drawings on napkins, as I remember,” Wallowa Valley Center for Wellness CEO Chantay Jett said. 

Jett, Dr. Powers and Maria Weer, executive director at Building Healthy Families, sat down and wrote a document called ‘consortium for a healthy community’ when they first thought about making a new building a reality.

The vision of an integrated heath care center makes sense. Today, more than 80% of the Wallowa Valley Center for Wellness’ clients are already served by both organizations. So there is a need, as Nic Powers said, “to normalize access to mental health care as part of whole-person wellness.”

To his knowledge, there are no other facilities in Oregon quite like this, Powers said. The partnership and joint facility between the community mental health program and the local Community Health Center is something unusual. Although other places offer clinics and facilities where patients can go to find a variety of services, it’s usually a set of separate offices under different ownership, simply under the same roof. 

“It’s this suite of offices over here and another suite of providers over there with different specialties, and there’s a big wall in the middle,” Nic Powers said. “What we’re trying to do here is a unified clinic where you walk into the facility and it’s all seamless for the patient. It’s important that patients can come in for whatever services they need and nobody needs to know why they’re there. You show up, you get the care you need.”

“I’m just so proud of our community for getting behind this idea,” Jett said. “That support really made a big difference in Salem, and I just can’t thank everybody enough.”

The group initially met with legislators about two years ago. In September 2018, legislators, including west-side Sen. Elizabeth Steiner Hayward M.D., Rep. Barreto and Sen. Hansell toured the site in Enterprise.

“That meeting was a watershed moment — we had a representative from every local agency in the room when we were meeting with the legislators,” Jett said. “They were impressed and onboard with us.”

Two very successful Hearts for Health fundraisers brought in more than $580,000 for the unified center — a very impressive amount raised from the citizens of a small rural community. 

“The community support here is real and I think people want to contribute and to make this happen here,” Jett said. “They can see the need. And that also impressed the legislators.”

They moved forward with an appropriations bill written jointly by Hansell and Barreto. On April 19, Jett, Powers and local VA Veterans Service Officer Ted Thorne testified before the Joint Committee on Ways and Means Subcommittee on capital construction in support of the HB 5030 request for a $2.5 million appropriation.

“It’s exciting that the Legislature passed that appropriation,” Powers said. “We have very concrete plans to get to 80% funding. It’s essential when you approach foundations to have enough dollars committed so that they take the project seriously. The $2.5 million from the State of Oregon definitely puts us in that category. So we hope they’ll take a look at us and say, ‘Wow, this is a real project and it’s worth our foundation investing our money resources in this community.’”

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