|Jun 28, 2012 --
If you live near John Day, Oregon, and need an x-ray, you’ll still be able to get one without driving more than 70 miles of secondary roads across national forests, sprawling rangelands, and mountain passes to reach a neighboring hospital. And that’s good news to the 7,300 residents who rely on Blue Mountain Hospital as the county’s only critical access provider.
Outline of Need:
Earlier this year, the hospital had received an ‘end-of-life letter’ for their only x-ray machine, which was installed in 2003. This meant that parts and servicing would become more difficult and expensive to secure on the aging equipment. In order to maintain continuity of services, hospital administrators did not have much time to seek grants or other funding to purchase an upgrade.
How Rural Development Helped:
Blue Mountain Hospital contacted the USDA Rural Development area office for ideas about how to finance new equipment. "Rural hospitals and other essential service providers often come to us first," said USDA Rural Development State Director Vicki Walker, "because we live and work in their local communities."
The local USDA Rural Development program specialist suggested the Rural Economic Development Loan and Grant (REDLG) program, which provides zero-interest loans and grants to rural utilities and cooperatives willing to re-lend the funds for community projects serving rural areas. With REDLG, funds can be made available relatively quickly, since USDA approves applications on a monthly basis, rather than the annual cycle driving many other programs. In addition, the approach encourages local utilities and cooperatives to take a seat at the community development table and champion projects in their own communities. "USDA Rural Development is thrilled to be an active, committed partner alongside these local leaders," Walker said.
Oregon Trail Electric Consumers Cooperative (OTECC), a member-owned utility with a mission to enhance the economy and the quality of life of the area, was quick to ‘cowboy up’ and become the intermediary for the project. In June of 2012, USDA Rural Development approved a ten-year loan of $184,000 to OTECC which, in turn, will loan the money to the hospital at no interest for seven years.
When the loan came through, the old x-ray machine was down. Rather than sink money into an expensive temporary fix, explained hospital CEO Bob Houser, the USDA Rural Development funds allowed them to replace the equipment outright. "We are extremely excited and thankful that USDA was there," he said.
Blue Mountain Hospital was then able to purchase a state-of-the-art digital x-ray system that sets new standards for image quality, staff productivity, and patient care. The equipment is capable of taking hundreds of images during each exam, as opposed to the four or five images that were previously available per visit. In the process, patients are exposed to much less radiation.
According to the hospital’s diagnostic imaging manager Dan Goldblatt, the x-ray system at Blue Mountain Hospital is as good as or better than anything in the region’s larger communities. "People are surprised we can do it here," he said.
For those living in remote rural areas, access to high-quality medical care in the local community can make a life-saving difference. "It doesn’t help an 80-year old patient to drive several hours or more for an exam," Goldblatt explained.
Program: Rural Economic Development Loan and Grant (REDLG)
Partners: Oregon Trail Electric Consumers Cooperative, Blue Mountain Hospital, USDA Rural Development
Total Project Cost: $218,000
Community: John Day, Oregon; Grant County