NORTH BEND — “This town has always struggled with a depressed economy, which goes hand-in-hand with mental health,” said Lance Nelson.
He is the Director of Behavioral Health and the Chief Experience Officer for the Waterfall Clinic, which just announced the expansion of its mental health services. The expansion is such that it requires its own building, which is next to the main Waterfall Clinic in North Bend.
“This began back in 2014,” Nelson said, explaining that a physician told him there was “a ton of need for mental health providers” in the area and that the clinic “was missing the boat.”
At the time, Waterfall had roughly 20 to 30 mental health visits a month. When the clinic made the goal to increase those visits, within six months it had hired three fulltime mental health providers.
Since then the clinic has sought to increase services to its patients.
“If someone comes in with a bum knee and is depressed, we can take care of both,” Nelson said. “We don’t turn anyone away, even if they don’t have insurance.”
The Waterfall Clinic can do this because it is a federally qualified health center and nonprofit, meaning it mainly runs on grants.
“We are here to make life better for our patients,” said Andrea Trenner, Waterfall CEO. “Regardless of your economic status, you have the right to quality health care.”
Now that it has added on more mental health professionals, even putting some in the Coos Bay School District, the clinic has run out of space.
“This happened because we expanded our medical side while adding several new providers for our medical team,” Nelson said. “When we realized we needed more room and were looking at solutions, I kept driving by this building right next door that was sitting empty and had previously been set up as a sleep center. It was the perfect fit.”
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Because it had been a sleep center, it had sound proof walls and other amenities that could be used for the mental health offices.
“It even had the same number of offices I needed,” Nelson said.
The clinic leased the building and is now renovating it to make the lobby small and intimate, lessening anxiety for patients waiting to be seen, and also put windows into the offices, which had been absent because they had been used for sleep.
“It wasn’t hard for me when I was first approached about expanding mental health services because there are people here not being served,” Nelson said. “It was easy to start with patients here because they are more complex than others with private insurance and steady jobs. Socioeconomic factors in mental health are magnified for our patient population.”
From his perspective, there will always be an unmet need for mental health on the southern Oregon coast. At the Waterfall Clinic, mental health services are usually scheduled out no longer than four or five weeks because any longer than that can mean patients get worse and then are unmotivated to get treatment.
“When I see we start scheduling at four or five weeks, I go to my boss and ask for another position,” he said. “When we push that, we need to hire another person.”
The new mental health facility is going to have a soft opening on Tuesday, May 22. On Friday, June 1, there will be a public open house all day starting at 8 a.m.
“We will have free mental health screenings and consultations,” Nelson said. “If you have concerns about a family member of yourself, you can get information.”
There are screenings for depression, anxiety, PTSD, and eating disorders, among others. Results can be taken to primary care doctors in other facilities or treatment can begin at the clinic.
“It’s an opportunity to come in and see what we’re doing,” Nelson said.