New school health clinic planned in Sisters

Deschutes County health officials say clinic will address growing mental health needs

By Elon Glucklich / The Bulletin

The city of Sisters will move its school-based health clinic into a new building next year, hoping to expand medical access for Sisters School District students and area residents.

Deschutes County commissioners on Wednesday approved a plan to build a 2,700-square-foot clinic on land adjacent to Sisters High School. It was donated to the county by a group of landowners last year. The property lies just north of the high school near McKinney Butte and McKinney Ranch roads.

County health officials say the move is long overdue. For the last two years, the Sisters clinic has operated out of a small, two-room modular building between the high school and middle school.

The building was ill-suited for patient privacy, Kate Moore, a public health nurse program manager, told commissioners this week.

Health officials brought the new-building proposal to the county’s budget committee earlier this year. But the committee raised concerns over tapping too deeply into Deschutes County’s general fund to finance an expansion of the Sisters clinic.

Deschutes County Health Services operates five school-based clinics across the county: the Sisters clinic, one in La Pine, one in Redmond and two in Bend.

During a Wednesday work session, Moore and other health services officials told commissioners about a recently formed partnership with St. Charles Health System, which would add medical staff to the Sisters clinic. That would mean fewer staff hours and less money spent by the county to run the facility.

The partnership “will help with the continuity of care in schools,” St. Charles family doctor Rob Ross said.

The St. Charles agreement, coupled with more than $1 million in state and federal grants for the five centers, should reduce the amount of county funds needed to operate the center, Deschutes County Health Services Director Scott Johnson said. Construction cost is estimated at about $805,000, which includes $155,000 for site preparation.

The county hopes to start building the clinic next month, weather permitting, and wrap up in June. Some of the early foundation work on the site is already underway.

Blueprints show a layout with three examination rooms, two behavioral health offices, a lab area, conference room and nurse practitioner’s office.

Sisters and other Deschutes County communities are grappling with rising cases of mental illness, health officials say. The Sisters clinic serves students and adults facing a variety of behavioral issues.

Adding more space for counseling and other behavioral health issues would keep Sisters residents from having to commute to Bend for complex care, increasing the chances that families needing help get it.

“We have youth walking in (to the clinics) with suicidal ideation, depression, issues with bullying. We have some real family issues,” Moore said.

Sisters School District officials say they welcome an expanded health clinic. A broader mental health care network “has always been an area of need here in Sisters,” Superintendent Jim Golden said. “We’re thrilled to be in this partnership with St. Charles.”

— Reporter: 541-617-7820, eglucklich@bendbulletin.com