Of the Baker City Herald

The problem with living in any small, rural community is access, particularly access to medical care.

Living on the border between two counties is also a challenge for the community of North Powder. They are just within the border of Union County, but are just slightly closer to Baker City by road. It is also easier in bad weather to go south rather than brave Ladd Canyon or the back roads through Union drifted with snow.

Until recently, North Powder had no choice, however, if someone needed to see a doctor. Residents had to drive 20 miles either way.

At least that was until the Health Network for Rural Schools opened the North Powder Family Resource and Referral Centers in Union County.

With a focus on preventative medicine, the center wont eliminate the need to travel for emergency care and physician examinations.

But for residents of the five communities HNRS will serve Cove, Elgin, Imbler, Union and North Powder a nurse and nurse-practioner are now more available than they were a year ago.

Building built by students

The North Powder center was built by students of the high school at no cost to the local residents. Students built most of the building as part of their vocational classes. Materials were donated or paid for by grants. The Oregon Health Sciences University provided a grant and all the medical office equipment was a donation from a physician in the Portland area who was retiring.

Cherrie Records is the center coordinator. Were still learning what it is we are suppose to do, she said.

The centers nurse practitioner is Vickie Hill-Brown. She is available for a half day each week. The registered nurse, Michele Misener, is available one full day a week. Aylee Welch of Powder Valley Schools is the on-site mental health counselor.

Preventive medicine is the focus of the health providers. It is easier to preventive illness than to cure it.

Each week there are different people available at the center to give assistance with a multitude of needs. There is also outreach from various agencies. Staff members from Adult andamp; Family Services for example who help people apply for food stamps or assist with paper work for the Oregon Health Plan.

Others may provide domestic violence information, legal aid or inform people on the availability of drug and alcohol treatment.

There are programs for babies, children and families. Immunizations are available through the clinic as well as literacy help, and parent education. Whatever support the family needs can be found at the clinic or clients can be referred to the proper agencies in other towns.

Each month we will try to feature a special topic of interest, Records said. October is Depression Screening Month, we had a theater workshop in September. Right now we are still seeking volunteers.

The center opened last year in borrowed space as a resource center and moved into it new building in early September for full service.

Records said many of these services are new to North Powder and there is some resistance.

This community is so stressed economically, but very proud, she said. They dont want a handout, just a hand up she added.

Records grew up in North Powder, but left for many years. Ive lived in big cities and like others, I like it here. I used to have to have a manicure to go to work, now I have paint under my nails, she said with a chuckle.

Records said she has spend most of her time learning the ins and outs of all available resource agencies in Union County. She has spent time at Adult andamp; Family Services; at Shelter From the Storm, the La Grande domestic violence service; Legal Aid, the drug andamp; alcohol treatment services, at the housing authority and others learning how each agency works, how to fill out the forms, what is the eligibility for services. All information needed by the people of North Powder.

And what is even better, the services are free and confidential. The clinic is located at 333 G Street, next to the Powder Valley High School. The clinic phone number is 541/898-2244.

Records is available Monday noon to 5 p.m., Tuesdays and Thursdays noon to 3:30 p.m. It is always best to call ahead and leave a voice message. Her extension is 288 and she checks for messages frequently.

The North Powder Family Resource and Referral Center is an investiment by the residents of the North Powder and its surrounding farms and ranches, Union County, the Health Network for Rural Schools and many other agencies and services in a better life for the people of North Powder.

It is an investiment that will pay off in better services, better health, and better access for today and for many years to come.