Vernonia Health Board Announces Pacific University Partnership

The Vernonia Health Board has announced that they are beginning an exciting new partnership with Pacific University.

The Vernonia Health Board has developed an innovative health care model for providing rural health care.  That model includes the  creation of a three way partnership with Pacific University in addition to the Public Health Foundation of Columbia County, with whom the Health Board already has a working relationship.  The partnerships and new operating model are designed to provide long term  and sustainable health care for the Vernonia community.

The partnership with Pacific University has already begun at the current Health Center.  It will expand when the new Vernonia Health Center opens next year as part of the Rose Avenue Project. 

According to Health Board spokesperson Heather Lewis, Pacific University will use the Vernonia facility as a teaching clinic for medical students interested in a career in rural medicine, while providing the community with local high quality and expanded health care services.

Albert Rodriguez is the new Physician Assisant at the Vernonia Health Center

Albert Rodriguez is the new Physician Assisant at the Vernonia Health Center

Lewis was pleased to announce that Physician Assistant Albert Rodriguez has returned as the health care provider at the Vernonia Health Center.  Rodriguez, who previously worked in Vernonia, will work as a professor and faculty member at Pacific University and as the health care provider in Vernonia  through the Public Health Foundation of Columbia County.  “He will be a joint employee,” says Lewis.

Rodriguez  is a native of Ellensburg, WA. He worked in a  Pharmacy for ten years and volunteered in the E.R. part-time and weekends, while attending Central Washington University, earning his Bachelor’s degree in Science.  He attained a Physician Assistant degree in Medicine at Pacific University in 2008. He  practiced medicine for three years in a very fast-paced Orthopedic practice before moving on to Primary Care.

The current clinic hours have been expanded to Monday through Friday from 8:00 AM to 5:00 PM.   Students will begin working at the clinic under Rodriguez’s supervision on November 1.

Lewis says the  students  will rotate through the Health Center as they do their residencies.  “It will be a teaching facility,” says Lewis.  “We made this decision  because it allows us to provide more service with a stronger financial foundation-in other words,  it costs us less and we’re getting more,” explains Lewis.

According to Lewis the Health Center is hoping to add additional services including Psychology  services and Physical Therapy once the new Health Center opens, currently scheduled for the summer of 2014.   Lewis says she has been working closely with Pacific University and is currently acting as a proctor for graduate students as they complete their Master’s Degree thesis.  Lewis and the students are completing a Capstone Project through the Masters of Health Administration Program which is working to bring back those additional services (Psychology and Physical Therapy) under a teaching umbrella so they can be fiscally viable.  “These services are greatly needed in the community,” says Lewis.

According to Lewis the students are completing research through hands on work in rural health clinics as well interviews with health care providers in rural settings.  The goal of the project is to evaluate several aspects of rural health care:  problems that have been identified in rural health care situations, solutions that have been tried, and  successes that have been achieved.  “From the data and information they collect the students will develop a set of best practices so we can develop our model based on other people’s experience of what has worked best,” says Lewis.  “The Masters of Health Administration are learning about developing  a business model for a successful rural clinic and we’re benefitting from all their work.”

Lewis says that there are many advantages to the new partnership with Pacific University.  She noted that the Health Board has identified several grants that would provide funding for operations of the Vernonia Health Center. Pacific University has  agreed to jointly write the grants together which would specifically fund teaching and staff positions and development of teaching curriculum.  “This shows that Pacific is really invested in this being a successful project,” says Lewis.

One other specific issue that will be addressed by the partnership is provider shortages.  “Pacific University is really choosing to step into the vacuum that is becoming increasingly apparent as we are on the verge of health care reform,” says Lewis.

Lewis went on to explain that there is a shortage of providers not only in the metropolitan areas,  but especially in rural areas.  Lewis says that Pacific University has developed a brand new Rural Health Care tract which addresses specific issues related to practicing medicine in rural settings.  “We will be the first rural clinic where they will have a concerted effort to really develop a partnership model.  They will be able to have their students rotate through here and really have the experience of working in a rural clinic and maybe  even be enticed to practice in rural clinics after graduation.”

Lewis says the provider shortage is widespread and will continue to grow as more people seek health care following the initiation of health care reform.  “We will find ourselves in a situation where appointment times go out further and further,” says Lewis.  “Not only is it important to have and maintain local access to care, but to continue to train providers for the future.”