Malheur County clinic logs the miles and delivers smiles across the region

Penny Weymouth, Valley Family Health mobile clinic manager, said the clinic saw 250 patients across Malheur County during the past year. (The Enterprise/Pat Caldwell).

VALE – Christian Cooke knows the roads of Malheur County.

Over the past year, Cooke has taken the wheel of an RV and steered it to Jordan Valley or Harper or Ontario, though good weather and bad.

These trips aren’t about recreation, though – Cooke’s job is to navigate Valley Family Health’s mobile medical clinic from point A to point B across a county bigger than New Hampshire.

“It has been fun and, for the most part, we’ve had a positive response,” said Cooke.

The mobile medical clinic offers health screenings, dental checkups, child care and other non-emergency services.

Valley Family Health started this outreach about a year ago. Since then, the mobile clinic has logged 15,700 miles and served nearly 250 residents across the county, including 124 seeking dental care.

Valley Family Health’s mobile clinic takes health care into the field, visiting small communities like Juntura and Jordan Valley every month. (The Enterprise/Pat Caldwell).

“No one is turned away,” said Penny Weymouth, mobile clinic manager. She said the mobile clinic is all about providing accessible health and dental care.

Once a month, a crew of Valley Family Health providers – Weymouth, a dentist or dental technician and a doctor or physician assistant – board the RV and drive to a town in the county.

The schedule takes them to Jordan Valley, Harper, Vale or Juntura. Every week, the mobile clinic visits a different city. For example, on the fourth Thursday of every month the clinic arrives in Jordan Valley. This month the mobile clinic already visited Baker City and will be in Harper, Juntura and Emmett.

“There is a lot of need out there,” said Weymouth.

The number of people who take advantage of the mobile clinic varies, said Weymouth. Sometimes only one or two people show up.

Other times it can be “five or six,” said Weymouth.

“We bill insurance and have a sliding scale. And we take Medicaid for all our dental,” said Weymouth.

The clinic is important for people in remote areas of the county, she said. Many patients live on isolated ranches or farms, or don’t have the resources to drive to Ontario or Boise for health care.

“And a lot of people can’t afford insurance,” said Weymouth.

In Jordan Valley last year, a woman showed up who had not seen a doctor in 25 years, she said.

The mobile clinic, she said, makes “health care more accessible.”

Weymouth said the clinic has been well-received.

“We got a real positive reaction from businesses and the community,” she said.

One of the most rewarding aspects, she said, is helping children whose needs have not been met.

Many of the people the mobile clinic serve are “the working-class poor,” said Weymouth.

“But the people are welcoming and kind. There is a sense of community,” said Weymouth.

Usually, said Weymouth, when a mobile clinic visits a town one of the first places it drives to is a food bank or pantry, where people are likely to need help.

A grant from the Oregon Health Authority covered the costs of the mobile clinic for the first year. Going forward, Weymouth said, Valley Family Health will pay for most of its operation. She said the mobile clinic will also use some grant funds this year.

Weymouth said the providers want to expand clinic offerings in the next year by offering more wellness clinics to area businesses.

Another goal, said Weymouth, is to boost awareness of the clinic throughout the county. Cooke said after a couple of visits to a town people get used to seeing the mobile clinic.

He said in one town he is well known at the local café.

“They don’t even ask me what I want anymore, they already know,” said Cooke.

To find out when the mobile clinic will be in your town, go online to http://vfhc.org/en/about/events-calendar/month.calendar.

Reporter Pat Caldwell: [email protected] or 541-473-3377.

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