Western Sierra weighing level of service in Downieville
Downieville residents are expressing a great deal of concern over the future of their health-care clinic.
In a letter to The Union, Downieville resident Cherry Simi discussed why the clinic is such an important asset to the town.
“Our visitors and tourists need emergency medical assistance from numerous incidents related to vehicle and motorcycle accidents, mountain biking injuries, rafting incidents, etc.,” Simi said.
“As the Downieville clinic is an hour from Grass Valley, two hours from Reno and an hour and a half from Truckee, you can see that the clinic is a vital and necessary asset to our area.”
Members of the Downieville community, which is situated about 50 miles northeast of Nevada City on Highway 49 with a population of approximately 300 people, want to do anything it can to stop their medical services from being reduced, which they say will largely affect the welfare of community members.
In June, a community forum was held at the Downieville school gym on the topic, as residents made a plea for “round the clock” service hours to continue.
According to resident Liz Fisher, Western Sierra Medical Clinic officials discussed options that included reducing the Downieville clinic’s operations to three days per week, with a “telemedicine” schedule for two other days.
“Our health-care facility provides primary care services regardless of income. It has always been your typical ‘old-fashioned’ health clinic, supported by a caring family nurse practitioner and staff … ‘Old-fashioned’ in the sense that you are not just a patient; you are a friend, or a neighbor, a relative,” Simi said.
Cutbacks in service at the Downieville clinic would come while Western Sierra Medical Clinic is investing $5 million into building an entirely new health-care center at 844 Old Tunnel Road in Grass Valley.
The new facility “will allow the fast-growing center to add more services and specialists to meet the burgeoning demand of patients, especially with more people insured under the Affordable Care Act” said Cheryl Rubin, planning and development director at Western Sierra Medical Center.
“In regards to the Downieville clinic,” Rubin said. “WSMC is very committed to serving the needs of community members. With all the changes in health care, we’re evaluating the best way to meet the needs of the patients of Downieville.”
The Downieville clinic is currently open six days a week, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday, and 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Saturdays, with emergency and urgent care available 24 hours, seven days a week.
According to Rubin, among the options Western Sierra is considering is to reduce service to five days a week.
“We’re working with the community, talking about options, engaging them and listening to their thoughts,” Rubin said.
“There are a declining number of patients in Downieville and as a nonprofit, we need to use the best of our available resources. No final decisions have been made about the long-term schedule of the clinic.”
Western Sierra officials say they understand the concerns of Downieville residents and hope to have an option in coming months that will continue to meet their health-care needs.
“We’re working closely to come up with a resolution on both sides,” said Western Sierra Medical Center CEO Scott McFarland.
“I know there’s some anxiety, but sometimes when you use anxiety to your benefit to make changes or enhance systems or just to explore, sometimes you can benefit from that.”
“Each health center is different,” McFarland added “Every place is provided differently, depending on which community it’s serving. We are aware that Downieville challenges are a lot different than Grass Valley challenges, even though they’re only 45 minutes apart.”
Sierra City Fire Chief Brian Davey said while the bottom line is a business consideration, it should not be the sole basis for decisions on the level of health care made available.
“Priorities for federal funding used to be based on geographical area, but now it’s a population-based formula,” Davey said.
“The clinic in Downieville has never been profitable; it’s not about making money, it’s about providing service for the community.”
“Downieville may not be winning the ‘numbers game,’ but there’s a minimum level of care we should be receiving,” Davey added. “We’re just trying to work together and get to a point where we’re all working toward the same things.”
The Western Sierra Medical Clinic board has agreed to extend the current services for the next two months, until an alternative plan is created.
“Our expectation is that within the next month or two, we will have a very good option for the community,” said Glenn Thiel, WSMC chief medical officer. “With the board’s help and community input, we should have something put together that will meet the community’s needs as they are now; that’s our primary mission … We have a commitment to every community we’re serving.”
Maya Anderman is an intern at The Union.
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