“Using education to bring health care experts to rural Oregon.”
The mission of the Northeast Oregon Area Health Education Center (NEOAHEC) is to attract and retain health care professionals by providing regional educational opportunities. NEOAHEC is a nonprofit organization governed by a nineteen member board of health professionals, private business people and elected officials. It primarily serves the ten counties of northeast Oregon by working in partnership with Oregon Health Sciences University, three other AHEC centers and other health training institutions to achieve its mission.
Northeast Oregon AHEC is accomplishing its mission by providing:
- Rural education and training for health professions students
- Continuing education to all health professionals
- Health career education for youth, learners of all ages and teachers
Oregon AHECs began as a grassroots effort by rural physicians. The foundation was laid for the development of an AHEC when Dr. Lowell Euhus and Dr. Scott Siebe of Enterprise met with State Senator Mike Thorne in 1988. They requested help with the “crisis in rural healthcare.” As rural doctors, they were exhausted because there were not enough physicians to cover for them. Additionally, they felt this was a problem in other rural areas of the state. After the meeting with Senator Thorne, they developed and mailed a questionnaire to rural physicians throughout Oregon. The responses showed that almost 50% of rural physicians did not plan on practicing in their rural community in the next five years!
Therefore, Dr. Euhus and Dr. Siebe held a symposium in Joseph, Oregon to discuss the findings of the survey. Attending the symposium were rural physicians, legislators, Oregon Health Sciences University Educators and others interested in rural health. As a result of this meeting, legislators agreed to assure passage of proposals which would help rural health care across the state.
Chuck Hofmann, MD Baker City chaired an Oregon Medical Association Rural Health Subcommittee which included rural physicians and Dr. Dutch Reinschmidt of OHSU. The committee developed legislation aimed at enhancing rural health care and supporting rural care providers. Those pieces of legislation provided for a rural primary care provider tax credit, a rural loan repayment program, initial funding for the AHECs, and moving the Office of Rural Health to OHSU. Mike Thorne, Gene Timmes and other rural legislators assured the passage of the legislation in the 1989 legislative session.
Once AHEC state funding was secured, Dr. Dutch Reinschmidt of OHSU and Dave Johnson of the University of Washington School of medicine wrote a proposal for AHEC federal funding and successfully obtained the funding to start AHECs in Oregon. Dick Grant was hired as the first Deputy Director for the program and, in cooperation with Dutch and others at OHSU, began creating Oregon’s first AHEC center in the northeast corner of the state.
The grant was awarded and funding began in October, 1990. The first half of the program year was spent setting up the program office, advisory committees and implementing the first regional AHEC in Oregon – that AHEC became known as Northeast Oregon AHEC (NEOAHEC).
NEOAHEC had its first meeting as an incorporated board in April, 1991. They quickly moved ahead to selection of an Executive Director at their June 12, 1991 board meeting. Sandy Ryman, as the new director, worked jointly with OHSU and the people in the region to establish the initial residency and medical student preceptor sites and to begin needs assessments.
The initial assessments showed the need for focusing on EMT education. Then the board began to collect additional data to determine future service priorities for professionals in the region. A significant and visionary decision was made to develop infrastructure in the region to aid in future educational delivery. NEOAHEC partnered with the eight hospitals in the region to establish ED-NET I satellite receive sites.
During the third year of the program, NEOAHEC pooled resources with Eastern Oregon State College and the Rodeo Net project (through Eastern Oregon Human Services Consortium) to fund a NET I broadcast site on the Eastern campus.
The board also began to focus on long term funding strategies and to develop goals for funding beyond the end of October, 1996. Additionally, they developed marketing plans and further defined their “customers” throughout the region.
In budget year 1994-95, the board reevaluated organizational process and developed a more concise tagline for the mission: “Education for Health.” Realizing they could not be all things to all people, they also began to narrow their customer focus and began in earnest the process of resource development.
June, 1995 was a significant meeting of the NEOAHEC board. At that meeting, they refined their goals and determined how to allocate program funding across the three work areas of: rural education and training; continuing education; and health careers education. From this dialogue came NEOAHEC’s long term “pipeline” vision.
The last year of federal funding was during 95-96. During that year, the organization developed benchmarks for each of the strategies used in achieving organizational goals. The benchmarks continue to be measured and provide the organization with a way to chart its progress.
Since that time the organization has continued to grow and hs been very successful in its transition to a base level of state funding. NEOAHEC has used the state funding as seed money to more than double the budget level of base funding. Other sources of revenue for program delivery are from grant writing, contracts and delivery of “fee services.”
Thus, NEOAHEC has created a strong foundation for continued delivery of services to meet the needs of northeast Oregon communities and health care providers.