Members of the South Coast Healthcare Alliance suggested citizens urge the Brookings City Council to work with state officials to change state law if they want to see improved health care in South Curry County.

The alliance held a question-and-answer meeting Wednesday that attracted about 50 citizens to the fire hall in Harbor.

Alliance board members Sue Gold, who is also a county commissioner, and healthcare advocate Catherine Wiley explained that the emergency department promised by Curry Health Network will not open anytime soon, and that will have negative health and economic ramifications on people in the area.

The group is trying to create a groundswell of demand from residents for a satellite hospital — not a satellite emergency department — at Curry Health Network’s Fifth Street clinic in Brookings.

“We’re looking at trying to help Curry General (Hospital) survive,” Wiley said. “If patient numbers increase, revenue increases. And we’re far more likely to get (services) with 14,000 people than 2,000.”

The need

The alliance has often wondered aloud why a hospital is located in Gold Beach when the majority of residents live south of Pistol River. Brookings is the only city of its size in Oregon without a hospital.

The health district board says it needs at least $1 million to open an emergency department in Brookiangs, and is struggling to find that money.

“We need to bring services to where the people are,” Wiley said, adding that an Asante Health study in 2004 indicated the need for a hospital here.

Tom Broderick, a retired hospital development administrator, told the crowd that most hospitals in the Western United States have four hospital beds for every 1,000 residents, but only two per 1,000 people on the Pacific coast.

State law does not permit two Critical Access Hospitals to be within 30 miles of each other because the competition for patients would spell economic doom for both. But Brookings city and Curry Health Network officials were able to change an administrative rule at the state level two years ago to allow the number of hospital beds — 25 — to be split between Curry General Hospital and the clinic in Brookings and provide emergency services to the community.

And if hospital beds can be split to create a satellite emergency department, the alliance wants to know why the rules can’t be changed to allow a satellite hospital.

“If we split those 25, we could also have a maximum of 10 beds for psychiatric and mental health services,” Wiley said. “And an additional 10 for rehabilitation. That could have a tremendous impact.

“Laws can be changed,” she continued. “Before 2015, there was no such thing as (an administrative rule change).”

Cape Ferrelo resident Gordon Clay, who advocates bullying and suicide prevention, said Curry County often has the most suicides per capita than Oregon’s other 35 counties. Add to that an aging population with the state’s largest veteran population, and mental health care and counseling is desperately needed.

Economic impact

The lack of access to a hospital will affect the area’s economy, as well, Gold said.

She cited the thousands of dollars spent by Curry County residents at Sutter Coast Hospital in Crescent City, and that the lack of healthcare in the 97415 area has turned would-be residents away.

“Good schools and healthcare,” she said, “are two things people look at when they’re relocating. How many businesses go elsewhere because there’s a lack of health care? It happens too many times.”

Gold said a hospital is also needed close by — before a big earthquake hits, knocking out bridges, electricity, water and other infrastructure between here and Gold Beach. It is estimated it will take three to six months to restore electricity, one to three years for water and sewer and three years for healthcare.

“Twenty-five percent of our employees work in the tsunami zone,” Gold said. “Our economic stability and growth will be greatly affected by accessibility and affordability of health care.”

“A free-standing emergency room is not cost effective,” Wiley noted. “And it poses a higher risk (to patients) when they’re transported two times.”

“If you have put a child in the back of an ambulance and transfer them over Hooskenanden and a one-way bridge, you dramatically increase their risk,” she said of the Brookings-to-Gold Beach stretch of Highway 101.

“The bottom line is that we as a community have to have a say in healthcare,” Wiley said. “What bothers me is when people say it can’t happen. I believe it can happen.”