A private medical facility will open in Brookings soon with the specific goal of serving area residents who have difficulty obtaining basic health care.

The Oak Street Health Care Center is scheduled to open in late July or early August, according to Robert Gessele, administrator of the new facility and the existing Brookings Harbor Medical Center.

Gessele said the facility will focus on meeting the needs of Oregon Health Plan (OMAP), under-insured, non-insured and Medicare patients.

According to OMAP officials, he said, 1,500 patients are not being seen by a provider in the Brookings area on a regular basis, or they havent established regular contact with a health-care provider.

Access to medical care is a big issue here, and its not just with this issue, but also, for example, with access to a hospital.

Gessele said the effort to establish this kind of medical facility has been ongoing and taken a series of turns, especially during the past year.

He said the journey to opening the center began in earnest in May 2000 when Dr. Mark Silver, owner of Brookings Harbor Medical Center, bought the former Pacific Medical Center building at 446 Oak Street with the intent of opening a private clinic to meet this need.

In September 2000, Mayor Bob Hagbom set up the Improved Medical Access Committee (IMAC) to address the need for improved medical care for everyone in the community.

IMAC applied for a three-year grant through the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services for $282,692, according to Gessele, who presently serves as the chairman of IMAC. The hope was to have a publicly run center, so Dr. Silver deferred to IMACs efforts.

Gessele said the grant proposal was to provide a reimbursement for existing providers at Medicare rates during the first year, while developing methods to develop a free-standing clinic by the second year.

By the third year it was hoped a free-standing and self-supporting clinic would be operating, serviced by a family nurse practitioner, he said.

In May, the committee was informed that the Department of Health andamp; Human Services Rural Health Outreach Grant program had approved the application, but that the project wasnt one of 12 applications funded.

Gessele said at that point, Dr. Silver felt it was imperative that the need to provide health care for this group of under-serviced people needed to be addressed.

IMAC was more open to the project at that point, he said. They saw we were trying to at least provide some solution.

We realize it is not the complete and total solution, but its a step in the right direction to resolving it.

Hagbom said the city is supportive of Dr. Silvers decision. We started this whole effort to improve services to OMAP and under-insured and non-insured patients. We formed IMAC to facilitate this particular endeavor.

Anything that can bring this to fruition, well be behind. It will help fill the gap.

The mayor said the city and the committee will continue to pursue more solutions to the issue.

We would like to have air ambulance flights directly into our airport instead of patients having to go to a hospital first, he said.

We continue to work in that direction. Well do anything we can do to facilitate improved health care to our community.

Bill Boynton, medical access committee member, said Oak Street Center was the obvious next step after the grant proposal wasnt funded.

This is an outgrowth of the need that persists for (OMAP) and under-insured patients who live in Brookings, he said. It was obvious we were no closer to resolution when we lost the grant proposal.

Its necessary to see these patients are taken care of. In my own personal opinion, Oak Street has gone a long way to resolve the original mission the mayor sent out.

Boynton said the committee sees the new clinic as a positive step, not a negative one. This is one of many missions IMAC hopes to see come to fruition in the future. There has been no controversy about the clinic within IMAC.

Gessele said a provider had already been hired. Kathryn Wood, a family nurse practitioner with more than 20 years experience, will be seeing patients when the center opens.

Most recently, Wood has worked as a nurse practitioner with Urgent Care in Klamath Falls.

She is licensed in both Oregon and California, so Oak Street will be able to accept insurance from both states.

Initially, the health center will also employ a licensed nurse and receptionist. Gessele said the hiring process was already underway to fill those positions.

The clinic will be open Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. until 7 p.m., in an effort to accommodate most patients.

We may increase the hours to be open a little later, he said, depending on the demand. We would need to adjust our staffing if we do so.

Since the Oak Street building had been previously used as a clinic, it was basically ready to go functional, Gessele said.

He added that the clinic is an entirely autonomous entity from the Brookings Harbor Medical Center.

It is a separate and distinct business, he said. It is its own corporation.

Honestly, it is not viewed as a moneymaker. We are just hoping to break even.

Gessele said the center will seek public input. Community involvement is desired. We want the publics recommendations on policy and procedures.

We want to ensure the clinic will focus on community needs, so we will be forming an advisory board, a steering committee and we hope to have that in place when we get up and running.

The Oak Street Health Care Center is already well through the process of obtaining required credentials, according to Gessele. It will accept most commercial insurance providers and is open to the general public.

Necessary referrals by Wood will go through a regional referral panel, Gessele said.