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Sheridan , Oregon
April 12, 1989     The Sun Paper
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April 12, 1989

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10 The Sun, Wednesday, April 12, 1989 illamina les o By Mike Petrovsky Staff Writer, The Sun With her petite frame and college coed-like appearance, she doesn't seem like a giant-slayer. But Dr. Dawn R. Gertson is one feisty lady who'll take on anybody--including Uncle Sam. Gertson is currently locking horns with the National Health Service Corps, a federal agency attempting to remove her from her Willamina practice. Gertson, 30, entered into an agreement with the health service when she began medical school in 1980. She agreed to work as a prima- ry care physician in an area where there was a shortage of doctors for four years after she completed medical school. In exchange, the federal government would pay for her medical expenses---more than $180,000. Gertson, an Oregon native, was first assigned to a small practice in Vale, Ore., but she had to leave last July when the practice she was as- signed to folded due to lack of busi- ness. The health service promised to have Gertson relocated to another "Health Manpower Shortage Area" by mid-August. Health Manpower Shortage Area is federal bureau- cratic jargon meaning an area having few doctors. It was mid-October and Gertson had yet to hear from the health ser- vice about her new HMSA, so she took it upon herself to find one. What she found was Willamina, a town which was already designated by the health service as an HMSA and, more to the point, needed a doctor. The doctor explained her decision: "Logic told me that since Willa- mina was a Level I HMSA (meaning it has a greater need than any of the other three levels of HMSA), an ap- proved National Health Service Corps physician (Dr. Rick Bowles) had just left...and the Health Service always made transfers within the original region, then they should ap- prove my transfer here. But they (the health service) had other ideas--now they want me to move to Meridian, Miss." Compared to Willamina, Meridian is a thriving metropolis of about 50,000 people with 125 physicians and six hospitals. For those interested in a statistical comparison, the Willamina area has an estimated population of 4,238, one doctor (Gertson) and the nearest hospital is 21 miles away in McMinn- ville. Getting deeper into statistics, Meridian has a doctor to person ratio of one to 750, Willamina's is one to 4,238. State Rep. Paul Hanneman, state Sen. John Brenneman, U.S. Repre- sentative Les AuCoin and U.S. Sen- ator Mark Hatfieid have sent letters to the health service on Gertson's be- half asking that she stay in Willa- mina. So far, those letters have gen- @ rio Dr. Dawn Gertson erated no response. The only word Gertson has received from the health service was a form letter informing her that if she did not set up practice in Meridian she would have to pay back her tuition plus interest at an annual rate of 19.7 percent. Gertson is currently in the process of getting assistance from Gay. Neff Goldschmidt and the office of the U.S. Surgeon General to try to con- vince the health service she should stay. "I wish to stay here for several reasons, I am an Oregonian at heart, parents in Ashland, grandmother in McMinnvillle and siblings nearby. Willamina suits me emotionally, fin- ancially, and recreationally, and I can see myself being happy here for a very long time..." Gertson said. "My boyfriend grew up and lives nearby, as do his parents. I have some significant health problems, which have been followed closely by my personal physician with good success. He has informed me that a transfer away from my home and support system is likely to have devastating results," Gertson added. Gertson's arguments for not going to Mississippi go much deeper than the fact that she doesn't clog dance and doesn't like the taste of grits and boiled okra--a dish that truly is as bad as it sounds. "The infant mortality rate is higher here. The unemployment rate is higher here. There is just more need here. Half of my patients are low income," the doctor said. Moreover, she believes she is bet- ter able to handle common ailments that exist locally, than those common to the Deep South therefore her ef- fectiveness as a doctor would be diminished by moving to Meridian. On average, Gertson has been see- ing 20 patients per day at her West Valley Clinic at 149 NW First St. She could be the quintessential country doctor. Her patients pay her based on what they can afford and, since coming to Willamina, she has made 10 house cal~ In short, Gertson has vowed never to give up her fight to stay in Willa- mina. And by now, those folks in Washington ought to know she ain't just whistling Dixie. illomino increase The Willamina city council met in special session last week to review the proposed 1989/90 budget with financial advisor Ken Williams. A re- gular budget committee session is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. April 17 at city hall. The proposed budget of $278,875 shows an increase of $15,610 over this year's. The budget includes $4,000 available in working capital instead of the $18,795 deficit the city faced at the start of the last fiscal year. "Remember, this is just a plan--- an estimate of the year down the road," cautioned Charlene Bt~wn, city recorder. "It's just the same as figuring a household budget. When the paycheck comes in, you have to figure where best to spend it." Williams pointed out the need to start building a bigger cash- carryover. He said that funds will be short in Willamina for one more year, but the planning commission should start a long-range schedule of street improvements, anyway. "The mayor and the council get their yearly stipend back this year," Brown said. "That is, unless they have to be cut, like last year, to ba- lance the budget." (The mayor re- ceives $600 and the combined coun- cil get $720 for a year's service.) Property taxes needed to balance the proposed budget total $110,089, which is within the allowable 6 per- cent increase in the city's tax base. Williams explained the need for a supplemental budget. It's needed because the operating loan was "over-received" (they got more money than was spent). The remain- ing bank loan funds totaling $2,926 will be used to repay the loan. The only other item on the supple- mental budget is the transfer of $95 in sewer user fees to pay the interest on the sewer bond. After explaining both the supple- mental 1988/89 budget and the 1989/90 budget, Williams asked the council if the proposed budgets should be presented to the budget committee. The council agreed to present them "as is." Look for it soon in The Sun. ( l 1 1 f 9-15 time & @ you g,ve ,n & County Govern ports Prog . 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