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Columbia County's state representative details one of the bills he will be working on this year.

PMG FILE PHOTO - Rep. Brad WittIt has been a year since COVID-19 was discovered in our nation. The increasing number of deaths, currently more than 400,000, demonstrates the utter failure of our nation to adequately respond to the worst public health crises in a century.

The United States simply wasn't prepared to handle a pandemic. Neither was Oregon. So now we are playing catch up while our fellow Americans continue to die at an alarming rate. As a result of this lack of preparation, Oregon's rural communities are losing. Rural public health departments, such as the one in Columbia County, are understaffed and overwhelmed.

Vaccines are now available but Columbia County residents are again at the end of the line. Of the two largest systems in our county, Legacy and OHSU, OHSU has offered to administer the few available doses. Adventist will be conducting vaccination clinics in Vernonia. Clatskanie will be served by Yakima Valley Farm Workers. These health care workers deserve our thanks for their tremendous efforts. But this patchwork of providers is still not enough to serve the entire county.

Government is generally slow and cumbersome but it doesn't have to be. One of my roles as a legislator is to find ways to make Oregon's agencies more efficient and effective. And that means listening to constituents.

Citizens often offer me the best ideas on how to accomplish various tasks. For example, my constituent, Dr. Maureen Mays, offered to have her team deliver vaccines in Columbia County. Unfortunately, we discovered that there simply wasn't an easy way to do this nor was there a plan to incorporate volunteers into the vaccine delivery effort.

This is why I am working with Dr. Mays to draft legislation requiring the Oregon Health Authority to develop a program for volunteer medical professionals to administer COVID vaccines. I will be using every avenue to ensure that my constituents who want the vaccine are able to get it locally. This legislation will also make it easier for other rural Oregonians to get the vaccine should other rural providers want to follow Dr. Mays' lead. This is important because we can't forget about rural Oregon when it comes to delivering health care.

Vaccine availability gives me hope. But bold leadership, innovative solutions, and partnerships with healthcare provider networks will be required to ensure Oregon never again faces such a disaster unprepared.

Brad Witt is state representative for House District 31, including Columbia County and parts of Multnomah and Washington counties. A Democrat, he lives in Clatskanie.


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