Hayden Wins Support for Mobile Dental Clinics After Moment of Confusion

House Bill 3139 requires cities to allow nonprofits to set up temporary mobile clinics on private property, like one Rep. Hayden uses to give free dental care. His failed attempts to get approval for these clinics led him to the Legislature, but a fumble nearly killed the bill.

It’s the issue that spurred Republican Rep. Cedric R. Hayden to follow his father, former Rep. Cedric L. Hayden, into politics, just as he had followed him into dentistry.

House Bill 3139 requires cities to establish a means by which mobile medical clinics can be set up on private property for up to six months. Hayden sponsored the bill after becoming frustrated by not being able to operate the clinics in several Lane County communities. “It’s why I’m here. That’s the reason I got involved with the Legislature. If I didn’t have that difficulty, I probably wouldn’t be here.”

But his efforts almost came undone last week at its first public Senate hearing. In a scheduling mix-up, Hayden failed to show up to support his own bill.

Sen. Jeff Kruse, R-Roseburg and Sen. Elizabeth Steiner Hayward, D-Portland, expressed confusion and skepticism about the bill. With no one around to inform them, the Senate Health Committee Chair, Sen. Laurie Monnes Anderson, D-Gresham, gavelled closed the hearing, effectively killing the bill -- albeit temporarily -- even though House members had unanimously passed HB 3139.

The Hayden family operates a charity dentistry mission, using an innovative office structure -- an intermodal shipping container converted into a sanitary and portable health clinic, complete with hydraulics so it can be lifted on and off a flatbed trailer and axle.

Hayden and his brother have operated these clinics in the South Pacific and Africa, offering free dental care for people in areas where they’d otherwise go without any care.

But when their organization, Caring Hands Worldwide, tried to open a mobile dental clinic unit in rural Oregon, they were stopped cold by municipal bureaucrats in Oakridge and Springfield who wouldn’t grant them a zoning variance.

Hayden said he was caught in a Catch-22: the cities would allow healthcare professionals to stage events such as blood drives or teeth cleanings, but these events could only last a few days. And many rural towns couldn’t sustain the investment of a permanent brick-and-mortar clinic.

His shipping container clinic, designed to set up shop in a rural community for a few months before moving on to another community in need, was designed to fill the gap. But because it was a novel idea, it filled a niche these communities’ bylaws had never considered.

Even as food carts proliferate, providing a ramshackle but organic form of entrepreneurship, Hayden’s altruistic concept failed variance after variance. “They wouldn’t allow us to provide free oral health in their communities,” he said. “We were surprised.”

Hayden ran for the Legislature last year and brushed aside former Cottage Grove mayor Gary Williams in the Republican primary. No Democrat ran in the fall, and he easily succeeded former House Co-Speaker Bruce Hanna in the House, representing rural stretches of northern Douglas County and eastern and southern Lane County.

His proposal was greeted with interest by the House Health Committee and Rep. Mitch Greenlick, D-Portland, who readily invites suggestions from his Republican colleagues and brings them into the discussions. After Dallas Rep. Jim Thompson lost re-election, Hayden was appointed to fill the Republican vice-chairman position.

But the Senate, with a completely different set of lawmakers, operates in a different bubble than the House, and even a unanimous bill passed in one chamber is no sure thing in the other.

Alerted to his mistake, Hayden immediately trotted across the Capitol and pleaded with Monnes Anderson for a second chance -- which she accommodated a week later.

“He was so embarrassed and apologetic,” Monnes Anderson said. And at the hearing, “He was pretty straightforward on the need. And it made sense to all the members of the committee.”

HB 3139 had been negotiated in the House with the League of Oregon Cities, which supported the bill once it was limited to just non-profit clinics. The bill doesn’t require cities to allow the mobile clinics carte blanche, and they can still require permits. But it does require cities to provide a workable route for a new kind of clinic.

At its second Senate hearing, Hayden’s testimony reversed Steiner Hayward’s initial skepticism. “It’s a good bill,” she said, before HB 3139 was whisked unanimously onto the Senate floor without further adieu.

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