New Virginia Garcia Memorial Health Center set to open in October
By Richard Jones, El Hispanic News
Cornelius, OR — On the west side of Cornelius a substantial new building is in the final weeks of construction. The new Virginia Garcia Memorial Health Center will offer a wider option of services under one enormous roof.
This health center is the culmination of 37 years of growth launched when a 6-year-old girl did not receive medical attention and died of an infection that turned into blood poisoning.
Virginia García’s untimely death was blamed on several factors — lack of available care for farm workers as well as cultural and language barriers.
An outcry arose in the Cornelius community and resounded far beyond. Individuals, organizations, businesses, and government agencies provided funds for a clinic for Latino farm workers. Funds allowed a basic health clinic — housed in a three-car garage.
More clinics have appeared in Washington and Yamhill counties. These provide health care for the young and the elderly, for men and women, and for speakers of more than 70 languages.
A line of progress
The goal of Virginia Garcia Memorial Foundation is to provide high-quality, comprehensive, and culturally appropriate health care with an emphasis on migrant and seasonal farm workers and others with barriers to receiving health care, according to Judy Rose, a grant writer for the foundation.
The original Cornelius clinic opened in 1975. That clinic was designed to provide primary care for migrant workers, day laborers, and their families.
After establishing the original clinic, the field of view has widened in many directions — both physically and conceptually.
The second clinic began taking shape about 15 years after the original center.
The McMinnville Clinic opened about 1990. In the heart of Oregon’s wine country, this clinic provides culturally appropriate primary care, maternity care, a pharmacy, lab work, and dental services. In 2006 the McMinnville clinic moved into a new building.
The Beaverton Clinic, opened in 2004, is perhaps the most diverse. Patients there collectively speak 50 languages.
The Hillsboro Clinic opened in 2006 at Pacific University’s Health Professions Campus. As a bonus, it is located across the street from the Tuality Hospital.
School-based health centers in Tigard (2008) and Forest Grove (2009) provide primary and mental health services to children.
During the harvest season, a mobile clinic services eight different migrant camps in Washington and Yamhill counties.
Services are charged on a sliding scale, based on income. Virginia Garcia clinics will not turn anyone away for lack of money.
By 2000, Christine Rontal estimated, the health center had 50 employees and a $3 million budget. By 2012 it had expanded to a staff of 350 and a budget of $30 million. Rontal is the executive director of the Virginia Garcia Memorial Foundation.
The new two-story, block-long, 35,600-square foot building is hard to miss. When completed, the wellness center will offer health, pre-natal, behavioral, and mental health care services.
The Virginia Garcia Dental and Vision Clinic is now open on North 13th Ave. south of N. Adair St. A new pharmacy should open in September. The grand opening of the Cornelius Wellness Center will take place on Oct. 19.
While awaiting completion of the new center, primary care and pharmacy services are temporarily housed in the Forest Grove Medical Plaza.
A friendly atmosphere
Healthy or not, very few people look forward to visits with doctors or dentists.
Aware of the uneasiness generated by some hospitals, officers of the Virginia Garcia Memorial Health Center sat down with the architects of Portland-based Scott-Edwards Architecture. They created several tactics to overcome the “put if off until tomorrow” attitude that many people harbor.
From the exterior, an outdoor arch “arcade” runs along the building’s north side. This echoes similar buildings in Spain and Mexico. During inclement weather it will also provide shelter for pedestrians.
A hanging “barrel vault” — a cousin of the arch — will cover the main interior walkway and heighten the Hispanic motif.
“It welcomes you at every corner,” said Joan Jasper, LEED project manager at Scott-Edwards.
The “welcome center” in the middle of the building will draw light from a skylight 20 feet above the welcome center and will illuminate both the first and second floors.
Walls finished with 120-year-old wood will exude a calming touch.
The wood was salvaged from Cornelius’s original post office. After polishing and sealing, its beauty will convey a relaxing atmosphere.
Bright colors on the second floor rooms will add a cheerful feeling to the examination cubicles.
The center will include rooms for classes and community celebrations.
The teaching kitchen looks very much like the kitchens on TV, including a camera to allow everyone to see what’s cooking.
The cooking program will highlight healthier foods and low-fat cooking techniques. A growing problem is the increase of diabetes, one cause of which is the consumption of junk foods.
A “pedestrian alley” on the south side of the building can be converted into a small fairground type area.
Rontal said that prices at Virginia Garcia pharmacies are as low as possible thanks to donations and grants.
Rontal encourages families to have regular check-ups before symptoms develop. Treating small problems before they become critical will reduce the number of visits, she said.
Focusing on the patient
To improve services, Virginia Garcia Memorial Health Center staffers have borrowed some ideas from private businesses.
Virginia Garcia is “leaning up” by using techniques developed by Toyota’s Production System’s Lean Model. Adapted to health care, they should improve services to patients and running programs.
Small details in the new center show that patients are respected. The pharmacy will offer three service counters — two of normal height as well as one lower counter to accommodate people with disabilities.
A check up for Mother Nature
Everyone needs clean surroundings to maintain a healthy body. Even Mother Nature could use a little help.
The new Virginia Garcia Memorial Health Center will receive the U.S. Green Building Council’s Silver LEED award. The award goes to buildings that exhibit Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design.
At the Scott-Edwards office Jasper and staff architect Jess Graden discussed several cutting-edge aspects of the new center.
Graden called the center a very lean building from an energy consumption point of view. The building uses a large amount of glass, but several types of glazes serve different needs throughout the building.
Although Jeff Shapiro, the health center’s project manager, said they couldn’t afford solar panels now, rough-in connections will accept the panels when funds permit. Solar panels could provide about five percent of the building’s energy.
Several techniques such as “rain gardens” will capture run-off, passing it through a natural filtering process before it enters the Cornelius sewer system. The rain garden will contain several varieties of “water loving plants” that will filter the water. In addition a community garden will produce healthy vegetables.
“I think it will have a very great impact,” Jasper said of the new center.
As a fundraiser, the Virginia Garcia Memorial Foundation will stage a two-mile “Walk for Wellness” on Oct. 20. Walkers are encouraged to raise a minimum of $100 to participate. Funds will support programs such as the teaching kitchen.
With Oregon’s unpredictable weather, Rontal promises the event will take place — rain or shine.
Jasper summed up the new Cornelius center, calling it “on the cutting edge of community healthcare.”
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