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Mobile Health Center pulls out of Gold Hill

GOLD HILL — It's been more than 20 years since the last town doctor pulled up stakes to go practice elsewhere, so when La Clinica's Mobile Health Center rolled into town last August, city officials felt confident residents would embrace it wholeheartedly.

But four months later, coordinators for one of the valley's busiest health care providers decided its resources could be better utilized elsewhere.

City Manager Rick Hohnbaum told City Council members this week that, while he sent an email urging the health care provider to reconsider, La Clinica had discontinued the mobile clinic's visits to town in the final week of December.

Hohnbaum said future partnerships with La Clinica would hinge on finding a better site and figuring out "how to reach more residents." Since August, La Clinica experienced many days when just one or two patients utilized the mobile services.

Funded by federal grant dollars, the 40-foot clinic on wheels provides medical, dental and behavioral health care to area schools and to patients unable to reach other health care facilities.

Julie Wurth, communications director for La Clinica, said it was a tough decision to pull out of Gold Hill but that community support is necessary for the clinic's success — and to justify cost.

"They obviously need to see a certain number of patients, on average, every week, for it to make sense, and they were unable to get those numbers up to that level. It's a fairly good-size expenditure when we go somewhere," Wurth said. "I was there one morning when they were out in Gold Hill and only one person stopped in ... She was the only person to stop by for more than two or three hours."

Councilor Margaret Dials, a CanDo member who helped raise funds to purchase signs to promote the clinics, said she was disappointed at the timing of the closure, but equally frustrated at the lack of residents using the valuable service.

"I worked on helping bring them here, and I'm just incredibly disappointed that they're not working with us a little longer," Dials said. "I know their time is incredibly important, but I think it didn't work out, not because there is not a need, but because it wasn't the right placement."

The mobile clinic used two locations in town, one alongside a church food bank and another near Patrick Elementary. Dials said hindrances to the success of the sites ranged from hours of operation to difficulty reaching a vulnerable population.

"We have a really large, for our area, group of homeless people or couch surfers and people who are just very needy and maybe not real trusting of people or maybe don't want to be identified," she added. "I think it's important to figure out how to reach these people. Just because you're down and out, or have made bad decisions or fallen on hard times, doesn't mean you don't have the right to have strep throat dealt with or to have your children inoculated."

Wurth said La Clinica officials are not opposed to returning to Gold Hill under different circumstances.

"It has always been our goal to make efficient use of that mobile center. We are still talking about Gold Hill and are always in the process of trying to figure out where the need is and where people will come get service," Wurth said.

"We have always thought it would be great to work out there because there are not a lot of options for people in that area, and that still stands. We just got to the point in Gold Hill where it felt like it wasn't working, but that's not to say that they couldn't figure it out and make it work again." 

For locations of La Clinica's Mobile Health Center, see www.laclinicahealth.org/index.asp

Buffy Pollock is a freelance writer living in Medford. Email her at buffyp76@yahoo.com