At Home With One Community Health
Patient and Board Member Susan Gabay the "Why" Behind Her Commitment to One Community Health's Mission
There aren’t too many people in the Columbia River Gorge who have been committed to One Community Health (OCH) since its start. But Susan Gabay has been right there, involved or connected to OCH in a number of ways since our humble beginnings.
It all started back in the early 1980s with Susan working as a caseworker for “Adult and Family Services” in Hood River. When OCH—known then as La Clínica del Cariño—opened in 1986, she frequently referred clients to us, got to know our staff, and often interacted with us in regard to Medicaid billing and eligibility. She loved OCH's focus on helping migrant farmworkers and appreciated how it quickly expanded to become a bona fide community health center for everyone in our region, particular those on Medicaid.
In fact, she recalls, “in 1989, I had a second marriage and my only child, Susanna, and in lieu of presents, I asked people to make donations to the health center.”
Not long after, someone on the board of directors asked Susan if she wanted to become a member—and she did. In 1991, Susan joined our governance group, bringing to the board her experiences with the Medicaid population, both representing and advocating for them over the years. In 1992, she witnessed the grand opening of the current Hood River clinic and worked with the board to get through a number of tough years in which she says OCH “struggled to grow into the new building.” Still, Susan and the rest of the board carried on, managing well in spite of the shoestring budget, setting goals and improving financials as best they could.
All this while, Susan had never been a La Clínica patient. She had been loyal to her provider, Mike Pendleton, MD, who was at Columbia Gorge Family Medicine. However, when she got the news that he was relocating outside the area, she decided to make a “move” herself. It was around 2006, and Susan established care with OCH, usually seeing Sondi Koch, PA-C. (And imagine her joy this year when she learned Mike had returned to the area and accepted a job with OCH in The Dalles!)
“For regular appointments, I would see Sondi in Hood River,” says Susan. “But when I worked in my office in The Dalles, I’d sometimes get seen there, too, for urgent needs, such as the time I tripped on a speed bump and injured a rib. Access was super easy, and I never got the feeling it was because I was a board member.”
As time has marched on, Susan’s patient and board member experiences with OCH have only grown richer and more meaningful. With the board of directors, she’s sat through countless meetings, helping develop our vision, mission, strategic goals and supportive activities. She’s helped trouble-shoot major challenges as well as witnessed exciting developments and events, such as the ribbon cutting of the innovative facility in The Dalles and approving the future building slated for Hood River. Offering a layman’s perspective on finances, she’s shared that with the finance committee, asking good questions and providing unique insights alike.
From a personal standpoint, she has really appreciated the quality of our well-coordinated team-based care and convenient tools like MyChart, that have enabled her to efficiently access her health information online and communicate with Sondi, Adam White, RN, and others on her health care team. Also as a patient, Susan has come to view us—now One Community Health—as her health care home, particularly as events in her life have changed her circumstances over time…she is now single, managing some age-related health care issues, and carrying what will always be a very present pain in her heart: the loss of her daughter to suicide back in 2010.
“I don’t have family and live alone,” Susan says. “So when I go in to One Community Health for something urgent or even routine, I don’t need to go into detail about my past—Sondi has already got the context. If I’m evolving in a different way, she may suggest a referral to a specialist. She understands how important it is for me to maintain my independence as I get older and potentially without family out there to help. She takes it all into consideration when she’s talking with me. So I really feel at home in that way.”
Caring for our OCH health care centers just as she cares for her own little house in Mosier, she’ll speak up if she sees something needs to be fixed or addressed—Maybe it’s the bathroom getting shabby. Or perhaps someone is using the wrong kind of tape on the walls. She’ll say something about it, whatever it is. Why? Because Susan is proud of all that’s gone into every square inch of our facilities and what it all represents. She knows how far we’ve come over the years and from the look and feel of our buildings to the people who serve the patients in them, she doesn’t want anything to undermine OCH’s purpose, professionalism or potential.
“I care about them, and they care about me,” she says, referring to everyone at OCH. “You have to realize, today we are not just surviving but really thriving…and so I want to see this clinic be the very best it can be.”