There was a remarkable meeting between Newport City Councilors, members of the town’s Vision 2040 Committee and Samaritan Health’s Pacific Communities Hospital staff on Monday.
What was remarkable about it, is that some of the findings in the Vision 2040 citizens’ survey revealed that a very high priority is getting senior citizens to the doctor. Many seniors responding to the 2040 survey said not only is getting an appointment with a doctor often difficult, but getting to the doctor’s office and to PCH can be a chore as well. Many seniors don’t like to drive. Especially if the services available at PCH don’t cover their needs and they have to drive to Corvallis or Eugene hospitals. Or worse, trying to make riding the bus there and back work for them.
PCH Administrator Leslie Ogden says the hospital offers a range of medical services but generally the more serious the health issue the more likely a patient would need to travel to Samaritan Hospital in Corvallis. She told the council that transportation between the valley and the coast can be inconvenient at times, especially if a senior citizens doesn’t want to make the long drive.
She says PCH has doctors dealing with more serious health issues who come over to the coast several times a month from Corvallis but an appointment needs to be made in advance and they can book-up pretty quick.
Dr. Ogden says the new hospital they’re building in Newport will be easier to use in terms of medical testing and other diagnostics, patient access and treatment, by providing a range of medical services within a smaller area of the hospital – no more long walks in the halls between diagnostics room “A” and treatment room “B.”
Ogden said the hospital’s main disadvantage remains attracting doctors to the coast, and once here some are asked to to become mentors for new employees like nurses, nurse practitioners, even new doctors.
Another challenge is housing. There isn’t a lot of new housing going up on the coast and what there is tends to be very pricey. Ogden says housing costs and availability on the coast often gets in the way of the hospital’s efforts to recruit new doctors and medical staff. Another problem is that doctors’ spouses are commonly professionals themselves and they want to keep working. But there aren’t a lot of openings for such jobs on the coast. So doctor recruitment and turn-over remains a challenge for the hospital.
Dr. Ogden said the hospital is having to get more aggressive with their employment outreach because running ads in newspapers or on the radio is not getting the job done. They’re making more and more use of the internet to reach potential new doctors. And even then they are careful to screen applicants so they know they’re expected to be part of the PCH team, and not just glide in, stay a short time, fatten up their resume and then leave. She said new hires know that they’re expected to stay a while and that they’ll be held to it.
Further complicating the problem is a little known fact that America’s medical colleges are not graduating anywhere near the number of doctors the country needs. In fact the number of new physicians entering the profession is about the same number as a few decades ago despite the country’s soaring population. The number of newly minted doctors is not nearly enough to fill the vacancies, much less keep up with the medical needs of a huge wave of Baby Boomers moving into old age. Dr. Ogden says they’re having to advertise their openings overseas in hopes of attracting good doctors who want to move to the U.S.
The discussion produced acknowledgements around the room that the city needs to get busy promoting more housing and that providing more convenient transportation either to and from Newport or Corvallis appears to be “job one.” Everyone agreed that keeping in close touch with all these issues will be very necessary as they work toward expanding medical and transportation services in Lincoln County.