Two-year plan to relocate urgent care to Scappoose scrapped, Legacy officials state

SPOTLIGHT FILE PHOTO - The Legacy Health urgent care clinic in St. Helens will not relocate to Scappoose, despite a plan to do so announced nearly two years ago. Legacy officials confirmed this week the urgent care facility will remain in St. Helens. Nearly two years after Legacy Health officials announced an urgent care clinic in St. Helens would be moving to Scappoose, they're now confirming it will remain at its current location in St. Helens, however staffing at the center has changed.

Brian Terrett, Legacy Health's director of public relations, said plans to relocate the urgent care clinic initiated in early 2016 were altered in late last year. Instead, the decision was made to update the St. Helens facility and not establish a new urgent care clinic in Scappoose, he said. Additionally, staff at Legacy made the decision to remove registered nurses from the urgent care facility who were certified to treat emergency room level cases.

Terrett said the clinic in St. Helens was being used "almost like an emergency room," and said staff ultimately decided to remove some equipment used in that capacity as well as staffing.

"The one thing that we wanted to make sure was happening at that location was that people were using it as an urgent care not an emergency room," Terrett explained. "Here's the challenge. If people think it's an emergency room and there is not the staffing there to provide emergency services it puts Legacy at risk."

Instead, Legacy has launched an educational campaign so people know when to go to an emergency room or call 911 for something like severe chest pain, difficulty breathing or severe migraines, versus attending an urgent care center for sprains, colds or sore throats.

Fire Chief Mike Greisen, who oversees Columbia River Fire and Rescue and the Scappoose Fire District said if medical services at the urgent care clinic change, it could increase the number of calls the fire district gets. Without staffing to treat emergency situations, Greisen explained, it could affect the number of transports the fire district handles.

"If they have more people going to urgent care and they need to have an ambulance [for a transport] that would have an affect where before they could take care of it there," Greisen said.

The emergency room nearest to Columbia County is Legacy Good Samaritan in Northwest Portland.

Greisen said the education component could be a useful tool to educate people about when to go directly to an emergency room or call 911, rather than go to an urgent care first.

On average, the urgent care sees 10,000 patients annually Terrett said. In 2016 the fire district transported 254 patients from the urgent care, and in 2017, transported 139.

Over the past two years, plans for the St. Helens clinic changed course several times, with officials stating as early as December 2015 an expansion of specialty services at the clinic could prompt relocation of urgent care.

Terrett recently explained that Legacy has expanded services by having various specialists, like cardiologists and urologists, make appointments to see patients at the Legacy Health clinic which is housed in the same complex as the urgent care, but it does not impact the urgent care facility.

Columbia County Commission Henry Heimuller said the decision to stay in St. Helens will be beneficial for residents.

"As far as staying in St. Helens, that excites me a little bit not because Scappoose is so far away, but some of those services are are being provided by OHSU," Heimuller said. "For some people transportation is their biggest barrier ... it's nice to have one of those commercial operations in St. Helens to allow better access."

In February 2016, officials also confirmed that Legacy signed a one-year lease for a facility in Scappoose, near Havlik Drive. However, between 2016 and March 2017, no progress was made despite approval of a $1.3 million budget for the project. A former communications director with Legacy said a series of complications with the design process and construction planning delayed the process. Updates to the project were then expected to be announced last summer, but no plans materialized.

Ultimately, Terrett said the move "just didn't come to fruition."

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