When Columbia Basin Health Association was established back in 1972, its mission was to provide equal access to quality health care to all persons in the Othello area regardless of age, sex, ethnicity or the ability to pay.
The first clinic opened in August of ’73 with one staff physician working out of four exam rooms. The demand for services continued to grow and in 1976 the clinic and administrative offices expanded to the corner of East Main Street and First Avenue.
Forty-one years later, CBHA opened the doors to a magnificent 78,000-square-foot state-of-the-art building that almost seems out of place for a town with a population of 7,800 residents.
“The vision was to have the best rural health clinic in the country — not just in Othello, in the country,” said Chief Operations Officer Dulcye Field.
Planning stages for the new campus built at 1515 Columbia St. began back in 2015 because CBHA had outgrown its facilities in the downtown area, having drawn patients from throughout the Central Washington region over the years.
“We were seeing patients from quite a ways away. It was not uncommon to see people from the Tri-Cities and Ellensburg who didn’t have access to specific services,” Field said. “We have about 35,000 unduplicated patients across all our clinics, so that will tell you a little bit about our draw.”
Field said the planning committee’s top priority was to perform need assessments in the communities CBHA was serving looking for what people needed and then try and fulfill those needs.
“A few years ago we determined we were sending a lot of patients to the Tri-Cities for podiatry care so we reached out to Kadlec and now we bring one of their podiatrist here once a month. We’re trying to do the same thing with nephropathy because we have the dialysis center and we wanted to make that connection too,” Field said. “Speech and occupational therapy are also resources that were coming from Kadlec, so we’re trying to tie all those services together here (at the new campus) for the community so people won’t have to go all the way to the Tri-Cities to be seen.”
Passing through the automatic entry doors, one gets the sense of entering a space-age facility. Patients are met just inside the lobby and asked to clip on a state-of-the-art ID badge with Bluetooth technology that records data to differentiate standby time from time spent being attended to.
“When patients come into the clinic they are given a Versus Badge that we ask them to pin it on their outermost layer of clothing so the sensors throughout the facility can recognize where they are in the process of being seen,” Field said. “For example — when patients are put in an exam room we want to make certain we are checking on them after a specific level of time has elapsed. The badge gives us a better real time sense for how long they have been waiting for a provider or waiting to get their lab results. This helps us get the patients through the process in a more efficient manner.”
There is also a color-coded light panel outside each exam room that changes when a patient enters, when the provider enters, and when the room is vacant so it can be cleaned.
Field said there are other usages for the Versus Badge as well.
“It helps locate staff, which is beneficial when there is a need to talk with a provider about a patient or need them to sign a document. Or, if nursing staff needs to reach another staff member, they can be found using the Versus tool a lot faster and more efficiently.”
It’s too early to tell if patients are being seen in a more timely fashion, Field said, as there hasn’t been enough data yet to analyze in the short time the system has been up and running.
Another state-of-the-art system being utilized at the new facility is the Dynavision cognitive therapy machine.
“This is really an exciting thing we are wanting to introduce,” Field said. “When you have a patient that has had a stroke and their function is not quite right you can use the machine for hand-eye coordination — likewise for smaller children or even for athletic training. Currently we are using it for concussion baselines and measurement after post-concussion therapy.”
Field says the hope one day is to bring on an athletic trainer who could build a program for the Dynavision machine.
“For one of our local athletes, a concussion could be very serious,” she said. “Dynavision could be used for baseline assessment (prior to the injury), then for treatment post-injury to bring the athlete back to baseline, or better.”
There is no trauma or burn center at the CBHA facility, but there are a few providers doing online course work for wound management to learn how to deal with big pressure wounds.
“No one in town is able to deal with those types of wounds,” Field said. “It’s our next program to bring on board here.”
Providing quality service to patients requires quality providers. Field said she believes they have a pretty diverse group of said providers, but are actively recruiting with the caveat of keeping their patients in mind while doing so.
“We want to attract talent here and keep them so having a nice facility is definitely a big plus in doing that. However, those providers must be able to relate to our patients so we want to know if they have a love for rural healthcare and have a desire to live in a small town,” she said. “These are the types of things we look for when we are recruiting.”
There is plenty of room on the back side of the campus for future expansion, but plans have not yet been determined for the space. CBHA leadership is also looking at recent needs assessment surveys to determine the best use of the vacated clinics on Main Street and 14th Avenue.