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Locals Concerned About Hoodland Clinic Closing

By Adrian Knowler

Locals Concerned About Hoodland Clinic Closing

About a thousand patients served by Adventist Medical Group Hoodland Clinic must look for primary and urgent medical care elsewhere following the closure of the Welches facility in April.

The Hoodland clinic was among three Adventist rural clinics statewide that closed in the last month, with officials saying they weren’t able to staff the facilities adequately.

Patients and medical providers learned about the closure only a few weeks before doors were set to shut for good, and said they have felt shocked and saddened by the closure, as well as by the daunting task of reestablishing care with new doctors. Patients will now have to travel to Sandy, Estacada or further to receive primary and urgent care.

“It’s devastating,” said Andrea O’Neil, who has been bringing her family to the clinic for years. “I guess I’ll go to Estacada for emergencies and stop seeking regular care. I don’t even know where I would go; the Sandy doctors’ offices are overrun. When they’re that busy what kind of quality of care are you getting? I don’t have faith in the system anymore.”

“I’ll probably have to go to Estacada or change to a different [provider] or just not get care at all,” said Diane Dowell, another longtime patient. Dowell is 65 years old and has received treatment for multiple conditions at the clinic over the years. “There’s people up here older than me who don’t travel and don’t drive. How do they get a ride?” she asked.

The closure came shortly after the February announcement that Dr. Reed Epstein would be leaving the clinic.

According to Adventist spokesperson John Hay, the medical group could not find any replacement for Epstein, even on a temporary basis. As a rural health clinic, the doctor’s office received increased Medicaid and Medicare reimbursement rates, but was mandated to have a doctor or other licensed provider on site at least half of the time it was open, as well as offer urgent care services.

Hay said that the medical group found that doctors, physician’s assistants, and nurse practitioners were not willing to live in the area.

“It came down to provider preferences on where they want to live,” Hay said in an interview. “Rural communities are really difficult.”

Epstein, who has lived in the Mt. Hood corridor for nearly a decade, will soon begin a job at a community mental health center in Happy Valley. He cited differences with the Adventist administration as the reason for his resignation.

“It was not a good match between management and my personal values and ethics,” Epstein said in an interview, though he declined to go into further detail.

Epstein said the closure will affect many in the mountain community, pointing out that access to local health care has allowed many residents to stay in the area later in life.

“I feel terrible for the community and I feel devastated,” he said. “People were able to live longer on the mountain because of the clinic.”

Hay said that patients requiring help with transportation to further clinics would have to seek assistance through their insurance.

Epstein said that other local clinics may not have sufficient capacity to handle a potential influx of new patients, with only about a dozen providers spread between clinics in Sandy and Estacada.

“I don’t know if they really grasp the implications of closing these clinics,” Epstein said. “I can tell you there are not many providers [in the area].”

Clinic staff, who asked to speak anonymously to avoid potential retaliation, said they were also shocked and upset to learn that they only had about three weeks before they would be out of a job.

Adventist spokesperson Hay said that current employees had been offered available positions, although at least one person had been laid off. Clinic staff said that they had instead been invited to apply for publicly posted open positions, but not offered new jobs. Many had been working at the clinic for years, and said they viewed their coworkers and patients as family.

“I thought I was going to be here for a long time,” said one employee.

“I was planning on retiring here,” said another.

The clinic had been open for about 40 years, mostly under Dr. Murlan Grise, and treated many local patients as well as some who traveled from as far away as Maupin and The Dalles, according to Epstein.

The Salmon River Professional Center, which owns the building housing the doctor’s office, posted a sign in front of the clinic addressing the closure.

“[We] are actively seeking a private practice or another hospital to reopen the clinic and provide healthcare services for our community,” the sign reads.

Epstein said the decision to work elsewhere was not an easy one.

“It was an honor and a privilege and truly a dream to be able to take care of this community that made me feel so welcome and appreciated,” he said.

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