04 Jan Wallace Mobile Unit Supports Blue River Community After Wildfire Destroys Orchid Health Clinic
BY KATRINA RATZLAFF, DIRECTOR OF COMMUNITY ENGAGEMENT, WALLACE
For the past decade, Wallace’s mobile medical clinic has been a popular community ambassador. The big rig with two fully-equipped exam rooms (and even a small lab) has crisscrossed the streets of the Portland metro area thousands of times to bring care to those who need it most. Now its outreach mission is taking it further afield to the remote community of Blue River in Lane County.
Orchid Health delivers primary care to rural areas in Western Oregon, with clinics in Estacada, Oakridge, and Blue River. Like Wallace, Orchid is open to all, accepting Oregon Health Plan, Medicare, and private insurance, as well as offering a sliding fee scale for those who are uninsured. Over 4,000 patients of all ages rely on Orchid for health services including preventive and urgent care, behavioral health, immunizations, lab tests, chronic disease management, general illness, injuries, and dental hygiene.
Disaster struck in late September 2020 when the Holiday Farm wildfire rampaged through the Blue River area, destroying nearly every building in town. Orchid’s McKenzie River Clinic completely burnt down. Thankfully, no one was injured—but when the smoke lifted it was clear that this small rural community, and neighboring areas, were now without access to health care. A slice of health care history was also lost. The clinic, first established in 1978, was the second-ever Certified Rural Healthcare Clinic in the United States, and Oregon’s first.
Once evacuation orders lifted, Orchid’s staff quickly set up makeshift quarters inside a local quilt shop that had miraculously escaped the flames. Even though nearly 80% of Orchid Health staff were evacuated—and a provider from the McKenzie River clinic even lost her home—they persisted in providing whatever services they could for their communities.
Orchid’s leadership team immediately started searching for better solutions to bridge the gap until the clinic can be rebuilt. It wasn’t long before Bill Roller, Orchid Health administrative director, Bill Roller, got in touch with Lisa Cline, CEO at Wallace. Roller, who served as Wallace’s operations manager prior to joining Orchid, was familiar with Wallace’s mobile unit and knew it could meet the need.
“I’d been hearing about the devastation from the fires,” Cline said, “Thinking about all of the people in the small communities who lost everything, and wondering what there was we could do to help. When Bill called and asked about our mobile unit, it just felt right. We hadn’t been using the mobile since the pandemic hit—but now here was the perfect assignment for it.”
After a thorough “check-up” and maintenance, on Nov. 15, Bill Roller drove the rig out to Blue River. “We met several people who lost everything in the fires; their homes, chickens, ducks, livestock, etc.,” Perry said. “They were so grateful that Wallace was able to let Orchid borrow our mobile clinic to bring health care back to that very small community. We heard over and over that if people don’t come back, the community can’t exist. Bringing health care back to those areas lets those communities survive and rebuild.”
Orion Falvey, Orchid co-founder and Executive Director, emphasized the importance of continuity of care during a time of crisis. “Having the mobile clinic will provide access to many of the displaced residents all over Lane County,” he said. “The mobile clinic is our first step towards offering permanent health care to the valley. We’re grateful to have our partnership with Wallace.”
“A mobile unit isn’t something you can always find at a moment’s notice—they take a long time to build,” Wallace’s Cline added. “But there’s a tradition among community health providers to look out for each other. We feel fortunate to have been able to help.”