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Wheeler County is 1,714 square miles of rolling upland—sharply dissected by the canyons of the John Day River. This is ranching country. In the 1950s Wheeler County had about 3,000 people. With decline of the timber industry there are currently 1340 people.
There are 3 towns: Fossil—pop 475; Mitchell—pop 130; Spray—pop 160. There are no freeways, railroads, hospitals, supermarkets or theaters. The only health care and dental care is available from Asher Community Health Center, located in Fossil, with satellite clinics in Spray and Mitchell. Two Physician Assistants provide primary care.
Asher Clinic was established in 1974, operating out of the Sunday School rooms at United Methodist Church. Federal Hill-Burton Funds provided a facility in 1982 and subsidized providers, but provider support through Hill-Burton was dropped by Congress, leaving the Clinic to struggle with a county where a large percentage of the population is at or below 200% of the Federal Poverty Level. A local tax-district was formed in 1994 to subsidize the clinic, and this revenue has been a benefit to our on-going operations.
Long-term financial stability was finally achieved with award of a Bureau of Primary Health Care (BPHC) grant, for Federally Qualified Health Center (FQHC). These funds are essential to stabilize our operation to continue to provide medical and dental health services to our community.
As an FQHC, Asher Community Health Center, as it is now called, works to:
1. Provide primary care to all clients regardless of their ability to pay (though minimum fees ARE required)
2. Provide mental health / substance abuse care;
3. Provide dental services (emergency when we are able);
4. Provide prenatal care;
5. Connect clients who need it to transportation services.
In July 2005 ACHC became the first rural Oregon county to receive a state grant to establish a school-based health center (SBHC). The SBHC was established at Mitchell School (K-12, approx. 70 students). The SBHC serves both students and the general community. Previously Mitchell residents had to drive at least 45 miles to Prineville for their Medical Services.
The combination of FQHC and SBHC grants, the local tax district funds, and patient revenue is the basis for quality health care services to our population now and for the future.
Note: Figures are from 2018-19 data.
ACHC, P.O.Box 307, Fossil, OR 97830