By Saerom Yoo
April 4, 2011
After 15 months of scrambling to raise money and find, design and build a new home, the Willamette Family Medical Center will begin a new chapter today in northeast Salem.
The process has been stressful for Dr. Robert Steele and his staff. Until Steele, one of the founders and chief executive director of the clinic, received the certificate of occupancy last week, he wasn’t sure the move would be possible. But having ownership of the clinic and the prospect of growing into the 30,000-square-foot space are enough to make it all worth it, he said.
“No one thought it could be done but hey, look at it here,” Steele said.
The nonprofit medical center, which serves uninsured and underinsured people, had been in the original Salem Hospital building on Medical Center Drive for 15 years. In December 2009, the hospital requested that the clinic move out, stating that the building is “at the end of its useful life,” spokeswoman Julie Howard said.
Howard said the building eventually will be demolished.
As of Feb. 15, more than 60,000 people in Marion County were eligible for the Oregon Health Plan, with about 91 percent of those enrolled, according to the Oregon Division of Medical Assistance Programs. More than 6,000 are eligible for other forms of medical assistance. The Medical Center serves about 40,000 patients and can see as many as 180 per day.
At the clinic’s new home, in a former Circuit City at 435 Lancaster Drive NE, the signature giant, red plug still greets visitors. The rain has delayed painting. Inside, the empty reception area still has concrete floors. Carpeting also has been delayed, Steele said.
But today, Steele plans to run the clinic as usual, with no disruption of services.
“With what we’re doing,” he said, “how do you stop things? Send them to the Emergency Room?”
The clinic closed early Friday to allow time for the transition. But call coverage will continue as usual, Steele said.
So far, about two-thirds of the space is built with a few administration offices still being built.
“We have just enough space to cram everybody in,” he said.
Fundraising for the project continues, but Steele declined to say the total cost. As plans take shape, the price is an evolving number, he said.
The clinic originally planned to take up just 2/3 of the former big-box retail space and lease the remainder. But now it’s considering growing into the extra space by adding oral health services and expanding its existing services.
“Primary care is in tremendous shortage already,” Steele said. “This isn’t an entire answer to that but it’s a step in the right direction. We’ve got room to grow here.”