WARRENTON — “It was about a year ago that we really noticed that we had a problem providing access to care, particularly to Medicaid and Medicare patients,” said CEO Erik Thorsen of Columbia Memorial Hospital, flanked by medical staff and a crowd gathered at the Warrenton Highlands Saturday.

“It was very difficult for folks to get into a provider in town.”

Clatsop County has other primary care providers, one at the Park Medical Building in Astoria and ones operated by Providence Medical Group at Seaside Providence, Cannon Beach and Youngs Bay Plaza in Warrenton. CMH?became the latest June 10 with its Primary Care Clinic in Warrenton. It held a grand opening Saturday.

“If we can provide services in an outpatient service and preventative health maintenance, that’s what we’re trying to do here, making sure people don’t have to go to the emergency room,” said Clinical Manager Jamee Meier, who has worked for CMH?nine years.

“If it’s an urgent care, or if it’s something they can seek care and maintenance through something other than the emergency room, that would make sure they have access to our emergency room but also increase our accessability for patients in the community.”

The clinic includes primary care from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday and urgent care seven days a week. Primary care, mainly for patients age 16 and up because CMH has a pediatric clinic on campus, covers lab testing, X-rays, health maintenance, annual visits, medication, pain and other health management.

Meier said a big part of the clinic is establishing continuity within CMH. “Hopefully this will be a place that we can then refer back to our specialists, so making sure there’s that continuity of care within CMH.”

Thorsen said planning on the clinic started about a year and a half ago, CMH wanting to expand into Warrenton, across Youngs Bay but still in its primary service area.

Meier, who also manages several other departments for CMH, oversees about 10 employees, including a primary physician, assistants, radiology technicians, mid-level urgent care providers and customers service representatives.

Preventative care

Brian Cox, who has more than 30 years of experience, came out of retirement two months ago to join CMH. He is the new primary care physician at the clinic.

“I like to prevent patients from having coronary artery bypass surgery by treating risk factors,” he said. “My mantra has been wellness and preventative care, so I emphasize that. Every patient that comes through the door, I want to know do they smoke, because if they do, I’m going to try my hardest to get them to stop smoking.

“If you can do that one thing, you’ve achieved something significant, because then you’re at lower risk of developing heart disease, lung disease, all sorts of chronic diseases.”

Two customer service representatives at the front of the clinic help patients navigate appointments, insurance and other financial aspects of health care.

“A lot of primary cares in this area don’t take medicare, so this will be able to service a lot of that population that hadn’t been able to be served before,” said Cecelia Haskell, a customer service representative at the clinic, adding that the clinic takes both Oregon and Washington Medicaid.

The clinic, she added, participates in special arrangements such as the Oregon Breast and Cervical Cancer Program, which provides free mammograms.

The primary care clinic includes seven exam rooms, in which Meier said the physicians and assistants can do anything nonsurgical that doesn’t require anesthesia. It employes a bilingual medical assistant.

It also houses an X-ray machine and two radiology technicians performing a full array of scans.

“We can do extremities, chest X-rays, abdominal X-rays – we’re really not limited,” said Meier. “Where we end up needing to use the services at the hospital are where we need to get into CT (scans), mammography, MRI.

Urgent care

The CMH Primary Care Clinic expands to urgent care in August, opening seven days a week to minor emergencies.

Currently, there are urgent care centers at both CMH and Providence Seaside, as well as Northwest Urgent Care in Astoria.

There are two mid-level providers overseen by Urgent Care Supervisor Dr. Carolyn Marten, who has been a physician at CMH for 25 years. She started in the emergency room, and started managing urgent care part-time when the original location on the main campus opened in 2008.

“The truth is, in the emergency rooms, they’re designed to take care of the sickest people first,” she said. “That’s really their priority. So if you have a more minor – it’s not necessarily minor to you – but if you have something minor, you may have to wait for a long time.

“We’re trying to save them from the emergency department experience in terms of finances, time spent waiting in the emergency room.

“We think that there is a growing need for care in the Warrenton area, partly because of tourism in Warrenton and the summertime crush from Fort Stevens,” she said. “Also, it has become a hub for people to come and do their commerce.”

Marten said urgent care is partially a way for people without a primary physician to get care when they need it, adding that insurers often prefer the service. It also serves a lot of sudden illnesses – respiratory issues, ear infections, fevers and bodily injuries.

CMH has just received word it has been?certified as a Planetree hospital, a designation denoting patient-centered hospitals in which individuals learn more about health care and medicine to become active participants in their own care and wellbeing. Meier said the clinic fits right in with that philosophy.

“It’s really nice that they get to stay with the same person through their entire continuity of care with their visit here,” she said. “They actually can get their X-ray, their lab draw, their vitals, their discharge instructions - and if they need a procedure done, it’s the same face.”



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