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With recent investments, Prosser Memorial Health looks to boost Yakima Valley presence

February 16, 2020

MAI HOANG - Yakima Herald-Republic - Full Article

At the corner of East Lincoln Avenue and North First Street in Yakima is a billboard promoting a robotic arm that aids in joint replacement procedures.

The billboard isn’t about Virginia Mason Memorial, which is the only hospital in the Yakima area now that Astria Regional Medical Center closed last month. Nor is it from Astria Health hospitals in Toppenish and Sunnyside.

This new technology, the billboard states, can be found 50 miles away at the Prosser Orthopedic Center, part of the Prosser Memorial Health system.

Much of the conversation in the weeks following the closure of Astria Regional was how Memorial would respond.

However, Prosser Memorial Health’s latest promotion efforts aim to show that it, too, can respond to some of that need.

“I would like to take this opportunity to introduce you to Prosser Memorial Health, a well-kept secret of excellence in health care,” wrote CEO Craig J. Marks in a letter to Yakima Valley residents posted on the organization’s website in January, a few days after Astria Regional closed.

Indeed, in the past three years Prosser Memorial Health has quietly — but quickly — started to make inroads into the Lower Yakima Valley, where Astria Health and Memorial have a presence.

That was a direct response to an increasing patient base from several Lower Valley communities, including Sunnyside, Grandview and Zillah.

“Folks were finding us before we started reaching out and letting them know what we could offer in Prosser,” said Shannon Hitchcock, chief communications officer for Prosser Memorial Health.

Prosser Memorial Health Expands

A few years ago, it was common for Prosser’s more than 6,300 residents to seek medical care in other communities, said Dr. Brian Sollers, an OB-GYN and lead chief medical officer for Prosser Memorial Health.

“A lot of our patients and members of our community felt they could get better medical care in Yakima and the Tri-Cities,” he said.

In recent years, Prosser Memorial Health, which operates a hospital and several clinics through a public hospital district, has worked to get Prosser residents to visit its hospital and clinics.

The organization focused on several key areas: primary care, general surgery and women’s health. It’s also hired more providers — about 25 in the last year — across different areas, including a few who speak Spanish.

Among its recent investments was the purchase of a women’s health clinic from Kadlec, a hospital system based in Richland. More recently, it invested in a new mammogram machine that provides new technology for better detection and makes the overall experience more comfortable.

Perhaps the most significant indicator of that success has been its delivery rates. Last year, Prosser Memorial Hospital, a critical access hospital, delivered a record 439 babies, a notable figure for a 36-bed hospital. The 2018 total was 388.

Prosser Memorial Health wants to expand women’s health services, further hiring midwives for a new midwifery service.

The hospital has also boosted its primary care offerings by building new clinics and expanding hours. Clinics are now offering evening hours and are open weekends.

“People just need a doctor to go to,” Sollers said.

These investments have started to pay off not only in increased visits from residents in Prosser but from those out of town.

“Patients are loving it, and they’re telling other people,” Sollers said.

A year ago, Prosser Memorial Health opened a primary care clinic in Grandview. The Grandview area also has Astria Health and Memorial clinics, but the market was far from saturated, Hitchcock said.

Now with the closure of Astria Regional, Prosser Memorial is contemplating how it could respond to the need that is no longer being served by the Yakima hospital.

But don’t expect the hospital to start doing invasive cardiac procedures or open-heart surgery, Sollers said.

“We don’t have the facility or the means,” he said.

What it does have is Mako, a robotic arm that aids in joint replacement procedures. Prosser Memorial Health said it’s the only hospital in Central Washington to offer the technology; previously if you wanted your procedure to include Mako you would have had to go to Seattle or Spokane.

While Prosser Memorial Health cannot replace a much larger hospital that closed, the organization can at least provide an alternative for some health care services if one doesn’t want to make the longer trip to the Seattle area, Sollers said.

That service mix may grow in the coming years, and it’s looking into expanding into infusion care and urology, Sollers said.

The organization also plans to increase its primary care offerings and is looking at potential sites for new clinics. Sunnyside is a potential site for a clinic, Sollers said.

Those opportunities, however, won’t be pursued at the expense of quality of care, he said.

For example, Prosser has a property for a new facility. There’s a need, but the organization won’t move forward until it has the financial means to do so in a few years.

“We’re a tiny community, we’re a small hospital, but we’re doing things that are great,” Sollers said.

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