A message from St. Charles President and CEO Joe Sluka and La Pine Mayor Daniel Richer:
When St. Charles opened the doors of its Family Care and Immediate Care clinic in La Pine in May 2018, it did so to bring health care services closer to home for people who live there and in other medically underserved areas like Sunriver, Gilchrist, Chemult and Christmas Valley.
The project was years in the making and made possible in large part by the La Pine community. Individuals, foundations and businesses came together to see health care expanded in the south county area and contributed more than $1 million to fund the clinic, which houses primary care, immediate care, radiology, lab, occupational and specialty services.
Demand for services in La Pine is high. In 2020, more than 20,000 patients visited the clinic, 7,000 of whom were seen in Immediate Care alone. And as more people are seen there, more are referred to St. Charles' Bend hospital for medical emergencies that warrant a higher level of care than what the clinic can provide. In 2020, 715 patients were referred to the Emergency Department, 95 of whom went by ambulance.
The decision to activate 911 is made with the safety and well-being of patients top of mind. That’s why we became deeply concerned when the La Pine Rural Fire Protection District (LPRFP) enacted an ordinance—Ordinance No. 2019-03—attempting to charge care providers like St. Charles and the La Pine Community Health Center for what the LPRFP claimed were non-emergent ambulance transports. But these “non-emergencies” were patients with potentially life-threatening problems like heart attacks and strokes.
Recently, the fire district decided to review this ordinance and invited public comment. It received overwhelming opposition to the fire district’s fee-based model. This outpouring of resistance to the ordinance included submissions by the Central Oregon Independent Practice Association (COIPA), a group that represents independent providers in the region, the La Pine Community Health Center and one of the co-authors of this piece, La Pine Mayor Daniel Richer.
You can read the public comments here.
This Thursday, the fire district board is scheduled to review and vote on a replacement ordinance, 2021-01. The proposed new ordinance would direct the fire district to bill care facilities for all 911 activations— not the patient’s insurance, as is standard practice. We strongly oppose this new ordinance, as we believe it could place La Pine health care services at risk.
While the clinic sees thousands of patients each year, it operates at a significant financial loss and has been subsidized by St. Charles as a service to the community. Sadly, if St. Charles is forced to pay for ambulance transports, the increased losses to provide care may prove so challenging that the health system will most likely be unable to keep the clinic open.
St. Charles cares about the La Pine community and wants to continue to do our part to serve it. The people of La Pine deserve access to the health care services they need, which is why we think the fire district board should reject this ordinance and stop the harmful practice of billing care facilities for transports instead of patients’ insurance. The fire district has many means to fund itself that do not endanger community residents. It’s time they explore those other options.
If you live in one of the areas served by St. Charles' clinic and the La Pine Rural Fire Protection District, we encourage you to attend the fire district board’s next meeting on Thursday at 9 a.m. The meeting is virtual, and you must send your request for the Zoom link to email@example.com before 3 p.m. on Wednesday.
We think your health is too important to jeopardize over a fire district funding issue.
President and CEO
St. Charles Health System
Mayor of La Pine