Gov. Kate Brown visited the OHSU Cascades East Family Medicine Residency Program in Klamath Falls Jan. 24 to help drive home the importance of the Oregon Health Plan given state and federal budget challenges.
Patients seen at Cascades East, nestled in the hill country of Klamath County, exemplify the purpose of the Oregon Health Plan – the state’s Medicaid program for low-income Oregonians. Half of the clinic’s patients are covered by OHP and another 30 percent are enrolled in Medicare.
The Family Medicine Residency Program, launched in 1994, helps grow and replenish the workforce of rural physicians who care for these patients. The residency program is administered by the OHSU School of Medicine and co-sponsored by OHSU, Sky Lakes Medical Center in Klamath Falls, and the Oregon Area Health Education and Training Center program.
Gov. Brown toured the clinic and met with residents; physician alumni of the residency program; the clinic director, an OHSU School of Nursing alum; and Joyce Hollander-Rodriguez, M.D., regional associate dean, OHSU Campus for Rural Health, Klamath Falls, and program director, Cascades East Family Medicine Residency.
Stephanie Laudert, M.D., second-year family medicine resident, told Gov. Brown about a patient whom she first saw at Sky Lakes Medical Center.
Because the young woman, who had been unemployed for some time, had the Oregon Health Plan, Laudert could decipher her range of health problems over a series of follow up visits in the clinic and get her to specialists who could also help.
Now the woman’s chronic conditions are controlled, and she is working again.
“I can’t help but imagine what it would have been like if she didn’t have insurance,” Laudert told the governor. “Her only access would have been the emergency room. Without that continuing care, she would have been in the hospital many more times.”
The Cascades East team highlighted the impact of the residency program in fueling the local physician workforce, and the value of the Oregon FIRST – Family Medicine Integrated Rural Student Training – program, launched in 2014-15, in seeding the residency program. Laudert was one of the first two students in the program in which fourth-year medical students spend a year at Sky Lakes Medical Center.
They also talked about the importance of primary care and medical care homes for patients, as well as Oregon’s medical school loan repayment programs and the Scholars for a Healthy Oregon Initiative in which medical students receive scholarships in exchange for practicing in rural areas.
Gov. Brown said their stories about patients are especially important as state and federal lawmakers weigh health insurance coverage.
“Because your patient had access to health care, she now has a job,” Gov. Brown said. “That’s huge. That’s what we want. That changes the whole equation.”
Hollander-Rodriguez, assistant professor of family medicine, OHSU School of Medicine, was pleased with the governor’s visit.
“Gov. Brown came to OHSU Cascades East Family Medicine Center and Family Medicine Residency Program because she understands how health is the foundation of our communities,” Hollander-Rodriguez said.
“Access to primary care – especially in underserved, rural areas like ours – is directly related to keeping costs down from emergency room visits to the eventual costs for social services,” she continued. “We appreciated her time and her understanding about what we need to do to support the health of all Oregonians and train the future health care workforce.”