Creative vision, partnerships elevating Columbia Valley Community Health in our region
Columbia Valley Community Health is one of the most fascinating and least understood organizations in North Central Washington. It is emerging as a key community-building organization that is doing innovative things to enhance the health rather than just deliver health care services.
If you’d like to hear the entire interview, please access my podcast at artofcommunityncw.com or search for the Art of Community podcast on iTunes. It’s worth a listen.
There is an emerging consensus that creating health is far more effective than just delivering health care. A Kaiser Family Fund studied showed that only 10 percent of health is connected to health care services. About 90 percent is determined by diet, exercise, genetics and other economic and social conditions. The work CVCH and other organizations like Confluence Health are doing in NCW is aimed at supporting health.
CVCH started nearly half a century ago as a community health organization devoted delivering primary health services to migrant, agricultural workers and low-income individuals. But today, CVCH is doing infinitely more in the community. Services have been expanded to include dental, behavioral health and other specialties and its patients come from all walks of life and income levels. CVCH has also taken the lead in developing partnerships in the community that enhance health and will lower health care costs down the road.
Building community and creating a warm, friendly place for individuals in our community to access quality health care is at the core of the CVCH approach, because building relationships is a critical starting point for improving health. “Sometimes, that’s the best medicine of all,” Olson told me.
“I’ve heard disillusioned people say that Marcus Welby (the family doctor in 1970s television) doesn’t practice medicine any more, but I’d say that’s not true,” Olson told me. “Marcus Welby works at Columbia Valley Community Health.”
It’s a place where nurses and doctors volunteer their time to take patients on a hike to Saddle Rock to encourage them to take advantage of the opportunities for exercise and nature here.
When Olson took over as CEO, he discovered that employees were involved with more than 90 civic or community organizations, from service clubs to churches to conservation groups. They hire specifically for people who want to serve people and build community.
That mission to encourage health rather than just deliver health care has led to some really interesting community partnerships. For example, CVCH sponsors Girls On The Run, a program that encourages young women to build self-esteem and confidence through running.
Partnerships are being developed with local elementary schools that allow CVCH to bring services to youngsters rather than waiting for their parents to bring them to one of the CVCH facilities. A similar partnership is happening with Wenatchee Valley College.
Here’s another unique approach. CVCH is partnering with the Trust for Public Land to develop a park on 9th Street in East Wenatchee adjacent to its clinic. That park will ultimately give patients and neighbors a wonderful place to walk and play.
This kind of visionary thinking and creativity is happening throughout our valley and it’s exciting to see Columbia Valley Community Health taking a leadership role in helping to create our future.
Olson grew up on the East Coast and traveled west to get a degree in health care administration from Walla Walla College (now Walla Walla University). He went on to get a master’s degree from the University of Washington and spent his early working years in hospitals before switching to a career focused on physician practices. “I liked working with doctors better,” Olson explained.
From an early age, Olson felt he could make the most contribution to society in health care.
In 2000, he joined what was then the Wenatchee Valley Medical Center and rose to become the vice president for primary care, before taking the position at CVCH in 2016.
CVCH has been making major investments — the recently completed $9 million expansion and renovation of the main office on Rondo Street in Wenatchee, and the $11 million construction of the new Chelan facility.
Olson said he’d put the facilities up against any other health organizations, but that it’s the people who ultimately make the difference.
Olson thinks we are perfectly positioned in North Central Washington to demonstrate successful community-based health care.
“I think Wenatchee could be the template for so many things in health care,” he said. The area is small enough that there is a sense of, “We better do it because if we don’t, who will?” Olson said. At the same time, the area is big enough to have the resources to do something significant.
North Central Washington, as we all know, is a place for big dreams and great accomplishments. Leading the way for the nation in creating health would be a logical path.
I see a bright future for our valley because of the growing commitment in organizations like Columbia Valley Community Health and so many others to building stronger, more compassionate and successful communities here.