It’s time for Wallowa County residents to pull up their sleeves and pledge support as the Wallowa Valley Center for Wellness and Winding Waters Clinic develop an integrative healthcare services facility. Why? It’s the moral thing to do. It’s the responsible thing to do. And it’s the right thing to do.

We’ve taken tremendous strides in the past two decades establishing a premier healthcare system in Wallowa County. U.S. News and World Report recognized Wallowa County as the TOP up-and coming wellness county in the U.S. We should be proud. But I say to you now: we have more work to do. And I’ve yet to meet a Wallowa Countian to hang up his or her coat before a job is done.

Imagine a facility where care providers can efficiently coordinate to better serve patients and patients could see their physician or their counselor. And no one needs to know why you’re there.

My dream is that the line between mental and physical health will be a thing of the past. Too often fear of judgment prevents needed care. For many, the negative stigma of physical illness, and especially mental unwellness in society is a deal breaker. An integrative care facility is the first step in breaking down the barrier of irrational stigma towards mental health.

And this issue is critical for all of us. No one is immune to depression, addiction or any other mental health condition. Recent studies show that at least 8.3 million struggle with mental health needs. Even healthcare providers themselves face this reality – 27% of medical students struggle with depression.

Wallowa County has a chance to be a model for all of Oregon and beyond. Representatives from Wallowa County recently made an ask to the Oregon Legislature to help fund a new building that will dramatically improve collaborative care. Through the dedication of WVCW and WWC and the generosity of local residents who pride on taking care of our own, we’ve come a long way – too far to stop now. According to WVCW Executive Director, Chantay Jett: “We have identified and cultivated community and leadership gifts and currently have 58% of the needed funds secured.”

And while things are looking optimistic that the Oregon Legislature will pitch in, let’s show some Wallowa County grit and ensure that this project not only sees completion, but that it’s done right. Too much is at stake. “This new integrated care facility is investing in the long-term health and economy of Wallowa County for generations to come,” according to Jett.

With healthcare now one of our largest industries, this investment goes beyond the obligation to provide needed services to our neighbors. It’s an investment in our economy as well.

Former U.S. Rep. Patrick Kennedy, who led the way in the fight for health parity in this country, highlighted a chilling fact: “In the last 5 years, American employers have lost over $150 billion of productivity to depression alone. That is more than the GDP of 28 different States during the same period.” This affects us all.

We can’t afford to lose any assets in our community. It won’t be easy. It may even be painful. But I’ll say it again, it’s time to pull up our sleeves and finish the job. Are you prepared to shy from the challenge?

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