December 12 2019
COOS BAY, Oregon - Dr. Carla McKelvey is the first president of the Oregon Medical Association from the South Coast, and said she wants to ensure rural health care issues don't take a back seat.
"I want to make sure that rural physicians are represented," said McKelvey, a pediatrician at North Bend Medical Center.
"I think Coos Bay has often been downplayed," she said, adding she and others involved in the medical field are bringing it notice.
Already, she's met with Oregon Health and Science University's president and talked about how important their rural scholars, specialists and other programs that create access to care for patients in rural areas are.
Maybe she would have had that opportunity without being president of OMA, she said.
"But I think he listened," she added.
McKelvey is the woman for the job, said Dr. Steven Shimotakahara, a fellow South Coast physician.
He described her as hard-working, honest and involved in the community and health care.
The South Coast is isolated, he said, and having someone like McKelvey representing this area and other physicians is 'very helpful."
Before being elected in April, McKelvey was involved with the organization for at least seven years, first as a delegate, then vice speaker and various other roles until eventually reaching the top.
Her election comes at a time of change, with implementation of new health care legislation and defining how it will look for care and patients, she said. The legislation is filled with ambiguous terms like 'patient navigator," she said.
"We need to help define: What is a patient navigator?"
Rural health care has issues other care systems don't, she said, like recruiting and retaining physicians.
"I always feel like once you visit here, why would you want to leave?" McKelvey said.
But not everyone feels that way.
Many residents are trained in areas where they don't have to be on call for their clinic and at a hospital like many rural physicians do, she said.
Another issue is payment systems. The patient population in rural areas is largely low-income and pays for health care with systems like Medicare and Oregon Health Plan. There isn't enough of a different population to offset that, she said.
Practicing in a rural area is rewarding, though.
"I get to be involved with (patients) on a whole different level," McKelvey said.
"You can make a big impact here," she said, adding the community has a bigger say in their care than they would in a larger city.
McKelvey said she won't represent only rural physicians, and plans to travel the state to hold town hall meetings and gather others' concerns and priorities.
For instance, physicians who are employed on a salary don't worry as much about payment issues and malpractice insurance because their employer takes care of those costs, she said. Other physicians, however, worry about the costs outstripping any revenue. Ensuring that programs like the Medical Liability Fund, which help decrease those costs, continue is one of her focuses, McKelvey said.
She also wants to increase community collaboration and strengthen OMA's foundation grants.
Photo: In this May 16, 2011 photo, Dr. Carla McKelvey examines 2-year-old Darryn Westerman as his 5-year-old brother Jake looks on