09 Jun Q&A With Annual Award Winner Nic Powers
2019-20 OPCA ANNUAL AWARD FOR CHC ADVOCACY
Share your name, position, and CHC: My name is Nic Powers, and I’m CEO of Winding Waters Community Health Center.
What does this award mean to you? I am surprised by and truly appreciative of this recognition. As I went about the work of health center advocacy, I had no idea anyone was paying attention—other than those I was talking with in the moment (hopefully!). Here at home, this award helps demonstrate to our Wallowa County community how Winding Waters is making a difference.
Why do you think your work earned an Annual Award of Excellence? Upon reflection, what stands out is that I took nearly every opportunity to talk with legislators and policymakers. Taking the time and making the effort actually helped make significant changes in legislation, funding, and policy. One person’s voice added to the conversation really can make a difference. It’s a privilege and a responsibility that I don’t take lightly.
What are the important things people should know about your work? My style is to serve quietly in the background. Talking with people I don’t know is hard. When this award was announced, many of our own staff gave their congratulations and said that it was nice to know more about what I do as CEO. I realized many had no idea what I do day-to-day.
Since the announcement, I’ve paid attention to sharing subtly but broadly how I contribute to the pursuit of our mission. I’ve also worked to more clearly demonstrate that the CEO’s role, and by extension everyone’s role, is to do whatever it takes to provide the best possible care for our community. In the past few months, I’ve done everything from “CEO-ing” to taking medical and dental laundry to the cleaner, to crawling around under our Joseph Clinic helping reroute a network cable. It all needed to happen, and it all improved patient care.
How does the work you do impact your community? Wallowa County is a frontier community, with only 2.2 people per square mile. When you make a difference here, you often see the results firsthand. From kids in my son’s kindergarten class to retired neighbors struggling with chronic disease, I see the care and caring we provide visibly improving lives every day.
As a determined part of an effective team, I’ve helped grow Winding Waters from a struggling three-physician private practice to a non-profit Community Health Center providing medical, dental, and behavioral health care to more than half the population of Wallowa County every year. We are improving not just individual health, but County population health—year over year, one patient interaction at a time.
In addition to dramatically expanding and integrating care, we’ve also become an employer of choice. Our 70 employees (1% of the population!) have family-wage-and-benefit jobs. Many are lifting themselves and their loved ones out of poverty through their hard work on behalf of our patients.
How has your work changed since COVID-19? How do you think it will change going forward? It has always been important to connect with staff and patients. The effects of COVID-19 have made this even more important. We are all experiencing unprecedented uncertainty and instability. A growing part of my work is to demonstrate to staff and patients that—regardless of the uncertainty—we’re here for them now, and we’ll be here for them in the future.
As primary care providers, we’re committed to long-term healing relationships. We’re doing physical distancing, but not social distancing. The value of primary care is clearer than ever, and I’m making sure our staff and our patients hear that message, again and again, to continue to improve individual health and the health of our community.
Anyone you want to thank for your award? Diversity makes us stronger—even, and especially, out on the frontier. I’ve done my best to absorb, to soak in, the backgrounds and perspectives of all the people I meet in Wallowa County. I work to influence those perspectives toward durable community health and health equity for our population. This is the work of generations, and it will never be done, but we are making progress. I particularly appreciate the time people have invested in me as I pursue these goals. Meg, Larry, Lynn, Nils, Chantay, Joshua, Renee, Keli, Russell, Lelia, Dawson, Jessie, Ayesha, Kathy, Joe, Lea, Mike, Judy, Scott, Maria, Gary, Susan, John, Haley, Rich, Jen, Sterling, Angela, Marty, and many, many others have helped me grow, whether they know it or not, into a better person and a better advocate for our community.
Finally, I know it’s cliche to thank your spouse, but here I go—Dr. Liz Powers is my harshest critic and my greatest champion. There’s no way I’d have had the confidence to speak about any health care issue without her leadership, coaching, and (believe it or not) patience with me over these past 18 years.