LAST DOCTOR DROPS OHP

June 17, 2000 12:00 am

GOLD BEACH The last doctor in the Brookings-Harbor area to accept Oregon Health Plan patients is dropping out of the program at the end of June.

Members of Curry Governments met with doctors and state officials Thursday night in a forum designed to begin to find a solution to the health care crisis in the south county.

Dr. Lawrence Witt, the only doctor currently seeing Oregon Health Plan patients, said he will no longer do so after June.

Witt gave an impassioned speech outlining the problem and identifying 10 reasons for the crisis.

Twice before I have rescued OHP in Brookings, he said, After that, I told anyone who would listen that was the last time.

I am tired of taking abuse for why the system doesnt work or has run out of money, said Witt.

While not every health care provider or official in the room agreed with all of Witts points, no one blamed him for his decision. He was universally praised for his efforts over the years.

Witts decision leaves 1,000 people with no access to health care in southern Curry County.

Officials from Curry General Hospital said patients from Brookings-Harbor are now swamping the four doctors in Gold Beach.

They said the taxpayers of the Curry Health District in Gold Beach and Port Orford are now forced to foot the bill for south county health care.

The forum identified the problem, but every proposed solution was shot down by someone in the room as impossible or having failed previously.

Brookings Mayor Bob Hagbom pleaded with the state officials to come up with any idea. He said he and others would be willing to do whatever it takes, but that they need something new to try.

Hagbom said he is better known for his work on the expansion of the Brookings Urban Growth Boundary, but that he is more concerned about the health care problem.

Most local officials said the big question was, Whose responsibility is it?

State officials had no doubt. They said the question was, What are you going to do about it?

They said the legislature does not have enough money to bail out communities that wont work to solve their own problems.

Some local officials, however, thought the state caused those problems.

Hagbom opened the meeting by defining the situation. He said the clinic opened by Curry General in Brookings ran into trouble.

He said doctors in Brookings are suing each other, and some are leaving the town. He said Brookings has a large elderly population with increasing health care needs.

Hagbom said Oregon Health Plan patients have real problems trying to find treatment, while doctors cant make a profit by handling only health plan patients.

We have a critical problem down there the way I see it, said Hagbom of Brookings.

Gold Beach Mayor Marlyn Schafer said shes worked to recruit companies to her city for 12 years.

She said the key issues for their employees are continuing education, good schools and quality medical care.

I see medical care as being a very key issue for this county, she said.

For more information on this story, get the Saturday, June 17, edition of the Curry Coastal Pilot.