The Oregon Primary Care Association has named Coastal Family Health Center’s Chief Executive Officer Jim Coffee one of best health care recruiters in the state.

The primary care association has awarded Coffee with the “Health Center Leadership, Professional Engagement” award this month for his work recruiting and retaining medical providers in Clatsop County. In their recognition, officials from the association said Coffee addressed and overcame challenges in bringing doctors to the coast.

In 2009, staffing at the health center was minimal, with only two nurse practitioners. Currently, there are six medical providers working at the center, with another planned to start over the summer. An eighth could start by the end of the year.

Dr. Samuel Suk, medical director at Coastal Family Health Center, said there are challenges to recruiting medical professionals to rural areas, but added that Coffee has proven capable of creating a work-life balance that is attractive to top candidates.

“He’s created an organization that’s both professionally rewarding and one that also schedules in a way where you have personal time to enjoy the area,” Suk said.

An advocacy organization for health care providers, the Oregon Primary Care Association is a nonprofit membership organization of 29 community health centers across the state, which provides technical assistance to members and increases access to comprehensive health care for low-income Oregonians. Every state has a primary care association, and the most prominent role for each one is to provide training, said Beth Quartarolo, a spokeswoman for the association.

The clinics serve an important role in providing health care to vulnerable populations, advocates say. What that means is typically providing more control and oversight for patients, who by state law make up 51 percent of a clinic’s board.

“These clinics are for people who have barriers, who have trouble receiving health care,” Quartarolo said. “One of the goals is making sure people can get over those barriers.”

Coastal Family Health Center has worked hard to engage patients in recent years, Quartarolo said. But making those improvements to patient health care can also prove challenging, a result of federal regulations. Currently, the health center is striving for what’s known as a primary care medical home model designation, Suk said.

He said the designation would improve patients’ access to their medical information and provide improved up front health coverage. The designation would increase the amount of federal pass-through dollars the center would receive, and the center would likely have to hire additional staff.

Coffee joined Coastal Family Health Center as its executive officer in 2004, following 10 years with community health centers in Boston, Mass. Under his leadership, Coastal Family Health Center has grown from an organization that serves 2,000 patients to one that serves nearly 5,000 patients.

Statewide, health centers provide comprehensive primary care to about 312,000 Oregonians in medically underserved communities.

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