Rural Healer, Mother Bear
Deschutes Rim Clinic plans new $2.5 million facility
By Drew Myron
Sharon DeHart sees a medical emergency but knows how to avert the crisis.
“We need a new clinic, and the onus is on the community to make sure it happens,” she says. “I’m a big believer in taking the blinders off and seeing what we need to do, not what we want to do.”
Putting words into action, Sharon recently testified before lawmakers in Salem to secure $1 million in state funds to build a larger health clinic in Maupin.
It is this can-do approach that has made Sharon a community leader.
Ten years ago when she arrived at the Deschutes Rim Health Clinic, she was stunned to find the clinic in shambles. In fact, there was no clinic, only a concrete foundation and a hodgepodge of three modular structures not yet assembled.
She and her husband, Gary, got busy.
“We rolled up our sleeves and got to work,” Sharon says.
In just two months, they built and reconfigured the parts into a professional space.
Since 2007, the clinic has been a patchwork of “making do.”
“We have gone from a patient base of 200 to approximately 700, and service more than 2,600 patients yearly,” Sharon explains. “This has been done with one provider and a staff of four.
“The building we have is substandard and is not holding up well with all of our use. We are out of space, and the building is not capable of being added onto and meet code requirements. It is not insulated well, the floors are buckling, the walls are cracking. We have already replaced all the windows and the entire heating and cooling system to decrease our electrical costs, but it was not enough. There isn’t enough storage space nor any space to add more providers for more services. We need a new building.”
The clinic is a nonprofit health facility serving residents across 750 square miles in Wamic, Tygh Valley, Pine Grove, Sportsman’s Park, Juniper Flat, Maupin and South Junction. Health care is provided to all, regardless of the ability to pay. The clinic operates in cooperation with White River Health District, formed in 1997, and is supported by a health district tax approved in 2001 by more than 70 percent of voters.
Bigger, Better, New
Plans for the new $2.5 million clinic call for an 8,000-square-foot facility— about three times larger than the current clinic—to be built directly behind the existing structure. The new facility will include urgent care services, mental health treatment, dental upgrades, and increased exam and office space. The new clinic will allow for two full-time health providers and part-time providers. The existing clinic will be converted into storage and meeting space.
Adding urgent care and more practitioners has both health and economic value, says Maupin Mayor Lynn Ewing.
“Economically, this makes our new community more viable for attracting residents and businesses,” he says. “It should also help with our all-volunteer ambulance service, as some injuries could be handled locally rather than transporting them to an emergency room far away. With additional space and medical personnel on hand, care for our aging population and for youth and families in the community will also improve.”
With $1 million secured from state funds, additional funds are anticipated from a mixture of private donations, foundation grants and a tax levy.
The current option tax levy ends soon, and proposals for a new levy are underway—with an increase from 75 cents to $1 per thousand on property tax assessments.
A Late-Life Leader
Born in Corvallis, Sharon spent 20 years working in medicine throughout the state as a paramedic, home health aide and pharmacy technician in Lincoln County; at an orthopedic surgery clinic in Medford; and managing a primary care practice in Lebanon.
She was in her 40s when she went back to college and graduated with honors from Oregon Health & Sciences University to become a physician assistant. Recruited by OHSU’s Office of Rural Health, she become the first full- time medical provider in the yet-to-be- built clinic.
“We’re the only clinic for 50 miles, so you really have the ability to affect people’s lives,” Sharon says. “You get closer to your patients. You’re their provider and their friend. I love working with the geriatric population.”
Sharon starts the workday early and wears many hats, from making a house call in Antelope, to treating patients and mentoring staff. She also is president of the Central Oregon Independent Practice Association.
At 67, Sharon is planning for a future in which she hopes to reduce her hours and slow down. In preparation, she is working hard to ensure continued medical care for her friends, neighbors and patients.
“It’s up to the community,” she says. “This is their clinic. It’s not my clinic, but I am the mother bear and I’ve got to take care of it.”