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OHSU launches hub in Klamath Falls

Hospital news | Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Contact: Thomas Hottman

Oregon Health & Science University Provost and Vice-President Dr. Jeanette Mladenovic shares her excitement Monday about the launch of the university's rural health campus headquarters in Klamath Falls.

A zip code shouldn't determine the quality of a health care provider.

That's Dr. Jeanette Mladenovic's perspective on rural health care, as provost and vice president of Oregon Health & Science University (OHSU).

Participants of a collaborative effort between OHSU and a number of community representatives share the same view, and are making sure rural health care in Klamath Falls, and statewide, have more support than ever.

OHSU officially launched the OHSU Rural Campus Academic Headquarters in Klamath Falls Monday, with a ribbon-cutting ceremony and presentation at Cascades East Family Medicine.

Klamath Falls is one of two rural campus "hub" sites in the state along with Coos Bay. OHSU officials said they may consider a third site in northeast Oregon in the future.

Advocates for health care

"One of the differences in our rural campus is that all of our students will work together under the leadership of the community, and our partnership with our research community," Mladenovic said.

"Our students will learn how to intervene in communities and learn how to become true advocates for the community in advancing health."

Six students started with the rural health care program Sept. 28, and an effort is underway to secure more than two dozen housing units for future students. Six to eight students will likely participate in the campus each year.

The rural campus represents an effort by OHSU to provide inter-disciplinary health care training in a rural setting that lends more opportunities for recruiting physicians, pharmacists, dentists and other health care positions in rural Oregon.

"This is how we develop our future workforce," said Dr. Joyce Hollander-Rodriguez, who was appointed as regional associate dean of the Klamath Falls rural campus in July.

"We know that the more that we expose learners in their professional learning to those rural areas, the more likely they are to return to them."

Mladenovic first made the public announcement of Klamath Falls' selection as a site in November 2013, and was among several administrators from OHSU to attend the launch.

The next step is securing between $5 million and $10 million to additionally fund the rural campus in the future, according to Mladenovic, as well as recruiting a dean to oversee rural health campuses statewide. Mladenovic said the funds needed may be acquired through grants or private contributors.

Rural care faces challenges

Sky Lakes Medical Center CEO and President Paul Stewart shared his excitement about the campus, and the potential impact locally.

"We're very hopeful that the OHSU campus for rural health is representative of the beginning of a new era in health care professional education," Stewart said, "particularly for rural-based health care professionals.

"Health care in rural areas is vastly different from health care in metropolitan areas," Stewart added. "Our need for collaboration and communication is greater and the challenges we face are … more challenging. It's not often then that we see the leadership in these training centers step out of their comfort zones and their homes base and pursue a broader mission of preparing health care professionals."

Klamath Falls advantage

Dr. Joe Robertson, president of OHSU, expanded on OHSU's interest in creating rural health campuses, and for selecting Klamath Falls as the headquarters.

"Klamath Falls was selected as the headquarters of this project due to the strength of the resources that you already have: The educational facilities; the healthcare facilities; the clinics," Robertson said.

Robertson shared his excitement that OHSU is a leader in inter-professional training, where individuals are trained in their career field in a team-oriented environment, and that Klamath Falls is a partner in such an endeavor.

"Nobody anywhere is advancing inter-professional education in a rural setting," Robertson said. "What we are doing here is groundbreaking and it is truly unique, and it will be a cornerstone of healthcare in the future for the rural parts of our state."

Robertson said he sees the rural campus as a way to help spur more interest from students to serve in a rural area, where there can be varying challenges for health care providers.

"Recruitment and retention of providers is a critical, critical issue in rural settings," Robertson said. "We will make a difference here. We've been committed to this for years at OHSU … now we have a real rural campus."

Small town flavor

Shannon Carey, who came to the rural health campus from Monmouth, Ore., is one of six students enrolled in the campus. The 28-year-old Carey is one of the first recipients of OHSU's Scholars For a Healthy Oregon, which represents an initiative by the university to promote health care provider education in rural settings.

Carey is training at Klamath Open Door in Klamath Falls, and hopes to serve in her field as a physician assistant in a rural setting.

"Since I grew up in a small town, I really like the small town lifestyle," Carey said. "I knew that when I eventually decided to go to P. A. (physician assistant) school, I knew that I wanted to go back to a small community."