St. Helens Tries Again for Community Hospital

State will accept public comments until July 5 on the proposed $28.2 million facility
The Lund Report
June 30, 2010 -- Will St. Helens get its community hospital? 
The Columbia Health District has submitted an amended certificate of need application to the Department of Human Services, in hopes of securing approval for the Columbia River Community Hospital, a 12-bed facility that would offer 24/7 emergency care and other services.
A public meeting was held at St. Helens High School on June 23 to gauge public reaction.
“This is a much-needed component to the emergency response system,” said CHD Board Chair and Columbia River Fire and Rescue Chief Jay Tappan in his opening remarks. CHD’s previous application for the community hospital was denied in October 2009.
“There were questions about financial viability,” said Jana Fussell, certificate of need coordinator with the Oregon Health Authority. “And also about access to services for the patient, and whether there would be enough providers to staff the hospital.”
CHD filed an amended application -- with updated financial information and the addition of a rural health clinic to increase access to primary care -- which is currently under DHS review.
Having a community hospital means patients who can be cared for locally don’t have to be transported to Portland, according to Columbia River Fire and Rescue consultant Pete Carlson. Up to two-thirds of ambulance calls could remain in the community, reducing total call time from 2 hours for Portland transport to 60 minutes for community hospital transport -- keeping response teams in the community to handle other emergencies.
“We also started review of our possible status as a sole community hospital, a federal designation that would increase our reimbursement on Medicare and Medicaid funding,” said Pam Powell, CHD Hospital Project Coordinator. “All of these changes strengthened our application and directly addressed the concerns of the state.”
The community hospital will additionally provide laboratory and radiology services offering CT scans, X-ray and mammography.
The budget for the proposed facility is $28.2 million.
According to Portland attorney Peter Stoloff, who spoke on CHD’s behalf, the proposed hospital project will create 660 construction jobs and approximately 100 full- and part-time positions for hospital employees.
Stoloff also notes that Senators Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley, Congressman David Wu and State Representative Brad Witt have all expressed support for the project.
Speaking in opposition, Nurse Practitioner Madeline Anderson isn’t convinced the community hospital is necessary. She questioned the community’s access to primary care, specifically for the uninsured.
“I want to know how people are going to be served,” she said.
The 24,000-square-foot hospital would be located at 35311 Millard Road and managed by Legacy Health System.
Based on comments made during the public meeting, the community is equally split -- 2:2 -- about whether a hospital in St. Helens is actually needed. 
“A community this size deserves to have 24-hour care,” said Dr. Steve Losli of St. Helens, who joined 22   others in making comments supportive of the application. “It doesn’t have to be the Mayo Clinic.”
“Nothing has changed,” said Larry Karnoski, one of nine who voiced disapproval. “Just more smoke and mirrors.”
Linda Pollard, RN, of Scappoose, worried that the community-supported hospital would be “an unending black hole for our taxes,” while a local foster parent gave a break-down of her expenses -- including fuel and parking costs and $20/hour for day care -- every time she has to drive a family member to a doctor’s appointment in Portland.
Instead of giving a thumbs-up or thumbs-down on the proposal, attendee Gregory Birch commented, “Let’s vote.”
The record will remain open until July 5, allowing the public to submit additional comments on the certificate of need application.
A decision will be issued by DHS on or before Aug. 25. If approved, the hospital would open in late 2011 or early 2012.

To Learn More

Learn more about the hospital project by clicking here.

To submit a comment about the proposed hospital click here.


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