Kaiser Permanente Northwest is moving and expanding its Eugene office by about six times the size of its current office, allowing the medical provider to offer new services such as on-site imaging and lab work and an area to address needs like vaccinations and stitches quicker than a regular appointment.
Kaiser Permanente will eventually close its current 3,273-square foot location and transfer all primary care and lab services to the new 18,697 square-foot office about three miles away in Chase Gardens Medical Center, which is scheduled to open May 2020.
With the expansion, Kaiser Permanente moves toward filling a gap in Lane County’s health needs. But that gap is so significant, particularly in areas of substance abuse and mental health supports, that county public health officials say even Kaiser’s expansion won’t be enough.
Bigger space, more services
Kaiser Permanente has been evaluating new sites for its primary care facility for the past year, because the lease on the downtown Eugene medical office at 100 W. 13th St. expires in 2020, according to spokesperson Kimberly Mounts.
“We have got a lot of feedback from the business community that said, ‘What’s next? Where will you be going?’ ” Mounts said. “So we wanted to get this out as soon as possible.”
Kaiser Permanente administration is planning for about 18 total exam rooms in the new Eugene office, compared to the eight exam rooms in its current location. The new office also will offer a nurse treatment center, expanded imaging and pharmacy services and additional on-site lab services. The existing support at the current location takes up about 2,000 square feet.
The nurse treatment center is a part of the new facility where patients can come in if they need to get something minor done and want to skip making an appointment with a physician. Needs such as vaccinations, stitches removal and anything else within a nurse’s scope of care can be done there.
“In primary care at Kaiser Permanente we have lots of different ways we serve patients and we try to create the right level of access for patients for their medical needs,” said Shannon Surber, senior administrator. ”(The nurse center) is a convenient way for members to get their needs met quickly.”
The provider also is expanding its access to digital appointments, or “telehealth” services. These are appointments done by phone, video chat or visits online. The website suggests these be used for quick questions about topics such as follow-up care, test results, birth control consultations and symptoms.
They also add convenience for members who live out of town or are unavailable to go to an in-person appointment for something simple.
“There are certain types of appointments that are very easy to be done face-to-face through a digital component or video technology,” Mounts said. “So that will be part of our expansion too … making those services more robust and providing appropriate spaces for those virtual medical appointments.”
The provider was looking to expand in Eugene following an uptick in demand when it started taking new memberships in 2018, two years after the downtown medical office opened in 2016. At first, the office was only available to those who already had a membership, but Mounts said after going through the legal hurdles, Kaiser Permanente opened up to new members and saw significant growth.
What Lane County still needs
Lane County has a significant need for more medical support related to substance abuse and mental health, according to Patrick Luedtke, senior public health officer for the county. And it’s an issue that outweighs an expansion of services even this large.
“It will not be enough,” Luedtke said. “It certainly would help, but we have more access needs than could be met in just doubling of one clinic.”
While the breadth of primary care available continues to expand in Lane County, he said it doesn’t mean people are making use of it.
“In some ways we’re fortunate in the primary care world,” he said. “But just because you have a clinic doesn’t mean you have access to care.”
Patients could still have to wait six months for an appointment, despite the expanding access to primary care providers such as PeaceHealth and Kaiser Permanente and with smaller clinics in the area like Junction City Medical Clinic and free options like White Bird Clinic and Occupy Medical.
But Surber said by integrating more aspects of a medical visit — such as imaging and picking up a prescription — into one place, Kaiser Permanente hopes it will help with access to preventative care and encourage people to continue care when needed since it will be in one spot.
“The most exciting thing is the co-location of primary care and ancillary services,” Surber said. “For example, if the pharmacy is right there and accessible you’re more likely to fill your prescription than if you have to drive across town. If you sprain your ankle, you’re more likely to get imaging done if it’s down the hall than if you have to make another appointment …”
The access piece is most important, particularly in the major issues of treatment for mental health and substance abuse, Luedtke said, because a person’s social situation has a major impact on their health. This is especially important when talking about homelessness and overall public health.
“One of the biggest things we could do for them is get them housing. And not just a warm house, but what we call supportive housing,” he said. Supportive housing could include programs like vocational or counseling services.
“This is not just an epidemic — this is a syndemic,” said Luedtke. “You can’t solve one without the other sometimes.”
The new Kaiser Permanente medical office will be at Chase Gardens Medical Center, 360 S. Garden Way.
Kaiser Permanente opened its downtown medical center and its Valley River dental office at 1011 Valley River Way in January 2016. The dental office will continue to operate at its current location.