People Before Profit


“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful,
committed citizens can 
change the world;
indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”

—  Margaret Mead

Twenty years ago a small group of volunteers made a difference that has dramatically impacted The Dalles and neighboring communities. Three determined folks — John Byers, Linda Omeg and Mike Courtney — went to work transforming Columbia Basin Care into a rare and special thing: a not-for-profit facility providing award-winning medical care and comfort.

Today, Columbia Basin Care is the region’s only community-owned, not-for-profit, nursing facility for short-term rehabilitation and long-term care.

Founded in 1964, Columbia Basin Care has served the community for 53 years and has operated as a not-for-profit business since 1997 — that’s 20 years! With a team of nearly 100 people, the company is one of the area’s largest employers.

Created by and for the community
Columbia Basin Care operates with a volunteer Board of Directors. The founding members: John Byers, Mike Courtney and Linda Omeg were later joined by Carla Chamberlain and John Hutchison — all of whom still serve on the board today. Aidan Health Services, a management company, provides oversight and support. While Wasco County owns the building and grounds, Columbia Basin Care is an independent compa­ny with local control and decision-making authority. As a non-profit, there are no owners or investors, and funds are dedicated to staff, equipment and facility upgrades, such as the recently renovated courtyard and park — all improvements that increase quality of life for residents.

Advocating for quality medical care in a comfortable setting, these board members have firsthand experience. John Byers rehabilitated at Columbia Basin after major surgeries and took part in the physical and occupational therapy services. Other board members have had family recover at the facility, too.  “It’s been around so long that almost everyone has known someone —  mothers, fathers, aunts, uncles — who has known Columbia Basin,” notes Byers.

“This is our community, our neighbors, and our families,” says Valerie Hiveley-Blatz, the geriatric nurse practitioner who serves as primary care provider for residents at Columbia Basin Care. “We get to know and care for every resident on an individual level. Every person here, from nurses to aides to the kitchen and housekeeping crew, wants what’s best for the residents.”

Reduced turnover, happy staff
In the U.S., nearly all nursing homes — 70 percent — are for-profit facilities, according to the Center for Disease Control. In Oregon that number is even higher: 80 percent of nursing homes operate as for-profit facilities, with just 17 percent operating as not-for-profits, and three percent are government-owned.

Most experts agree that a quality facility is based on staffing levels, and note that for-profit facilities — and particularly large corporate chains — may cut corners to save money and boost profits. Nurses working in nonprofit nursing homes are significantly more satisfied with their jobs, according to a study of 900 registered nurses working in 300 skilled nursing facilities. A similar study show certified nursing assistants are more satisfied and preferred working in non-profit facilities.

Aubree Olmstead, executive director of Columbia Basin Care, can see the difference. Under her helm, CBC has seen a dramatic reduction in employee turnover and an increase in job satisfaction among staff (measured through anonymous surveys).

Long-term care is an industry that typically sees high turnover — 60 to 80 percent is standard — and that affects both residents and staff. The answer, say many, can be found in non-profit care facilities, places that put people before profit.

“With our dedicated team, the care and concern for our residents is genuine,” notes Olmstead, “and that makes all the difference.”

Columbia Basin Care offers short term rehabilitation and long-term care, and features the area’s only in-house geriatric nurse practitioner, along with a team of physical, occupational and speech therapists. Columbia Basin Care is located at 1015 Webber St in The Dalles, Ore. 541-296-2156,

At 103, Laura knows the secret to a long life


HAPPY DAY: Laura celebrated her birthday with a party of friends and staff, including Aubree Olmstead, Columbia Basin Care’s executive director.

What’s the secret to a long life? Depends when you ask.

At 103, Laura Ashbrenner says it’s all about the love of friends and family. “I have good children, and good friends and family.”

Last year, at 102, she attributed her long life to beets. “My mother always made me eat vegetables,” she said, “lots of beets.”

Ashbrenner, an accomplished fashion illustrator and artist who has dedicated much of her life to capturing the beauty of the Columbia Gorge, turned 103 on October 3, 2017.

She was born in Battleground, Washington in 1914. After high school, she attended Oregon School of Fine Arts and built a career as an artist for advertising agencies. In the 1930s and 40s she worked as a fashion illustrator for top Portland retailers, including Meier & Frank department store. Her work frequently appeared in the Oregonian and The Oregon Journal newspapers.

 Edgar (Ed) and Laura, along with their three children (Vern, Janet, and Marcie) moved to The Dalles in 1957. Stunned by the unique landscape, Laura turned her focus to capturing its beauty. Many of her landscape paintings are on display at Columbia Basin Care, and her artwork is often seen for sale at online auction and collector sites such as ebay.

She and Ed would often take drives through the country, where Laura would gather inspiration. “I loved all the old barns,” she says. “Some days, Ed would go fishing and I’d paint.”

Laura and Ed were married 75 years. Ed passed away in 2013 at the age of 106.

Known for her sweet nature and quiet talent, Laura is an inspiration to many. Even now, she’s still painting. Just days before her birthday, she has a sketch pad in hand at Columbia Basin Care, a long-term care facility in The Dalles, Oregon.

What’s the secret to happiness? “Well,” she says, “you just have to enjoy every day as it comes.”


Cruising the Columbia!



bridge-of-the-godsgroup-at-boatResidents, accompanied by staff and volunteers, recently enjoyed a special day-trip aboard the Columbia Gorge Sternwheeler.

The day included lunch on the riverbanks at Cascade Locks, followed by a beautiful cruise that featured up-close views of Bonneville Dam, Bridge of the Gods, Beacon Rock, Native American fishing platforms and other landmarks of the iconic Columbia River.

We even spotted planes gathering water to fight the area fire (the devastating Eagle Creek Fire broke out the following day).



A Successful Partnership Continues


Continuing its successful partnership with the local Youth Transition Program, Columbia Basin Care is happy to welcome Samuel as a Kitchen Assistant.

The Youth Transistion Program (YTP) prepares youth with disabilities for employment or career-related postsecondary education or training through the provision of a comprehensive array of pre-employment transition activities and supports. This practice is a collaborative effort among Oregon Vocational Rehabilitation, Oregon Department of Education, the University of Oregon, and school districts throughout Oregon.

Samuel, 21, has flourished since participating in the YTP.

“Sam’s journey to employment has been awesome to be a part of,” says Yvonne Wheeler, the resident Youth Transition Specialist for North Wasco County School District No. 21 who serves 25 youth each year. “We explored his interests and then connected those interests to specific volunteer work experiences. Ultimately, Sam began to discover a passion for kitchen work.”

Before joining Columbia Basin, Sam volunteered as an assistant in The Dalles Meals on Wheels program.

Founded in 1969, Meals on Wheels program aims to enrich the lives of seniors by providing nutritious food in a social environment. At The Dalles location, meals are served to seniors over the age of 60 in the form of home deliveries and congregate meals.

“Sam was great about showing up — even in the deep snow. He basically chipped in and did everything,” says Pam Farley, head cook at The Dalles Meals on Wheels. “He put things on trays, worked in the serving line and did dishes.”

Upon completing his volunteer work at The Dalles Meals on Wheels, Samuel applied for an internship at Columbia Basin Care to gain more kitchen experience.


IT TAKES A TEAM: From left, Darla of Vocational Rehab, Sam, Joe Fischer of Columbia Basin, Yvonne of Youth Transition Program.

After four months of hands-on training, Samuel was offered a paid position as  Kitchen Assistant. He works 1.5 hours a day, Monday through Friday.

“I always knew someday I’d find a job — that’s what kept me going”, says Samuel, smiling from ear to ear. “I always think positive things, not negative.”

Joe Fischer, Food Service Director at Columbia Basin Care, sees Samuel as a positive addition to the team.

“Sam doesn’t really have a bad day. He always comes to work in a good mood,” says Fischer.  “I wish I could get more employees that have the same work ethic as Sam. He’s something that’s not very prevalent in today’s workforce.”

In the kitchen, Sam prepares resident trays with silverware, napkins, and condiments. He sometimes washes dishes too. “Joe will usually just let me know what I need to do while I’m working,” he says confidently.

Since joining Columbia Basin Care in July, Samuel has shown himself to be keenly interested in not only performing his current duties well but in broadening his culinary skills. And that has not gone unnoticed. Fischer has plans to encourage Samuel’s interest.

“Sam mentioned a while ago that he likes soup; that’s something we could expand on since Mondays are soup days,” says Fischer. Samuel’s smile grows wide with this comment.

Wheeler is thrilled to see Samuel achieve success while finding his niche in the kitchen at Columbia Basin Care.

“It’s so rewarding to assist a YTP youth in realizing what type of employment they are genuinely enthusiastic about, and then, with hard work, determination and guidance, help them seek out a business that mirrors that enthusiasm,” she says. “It’s a win-win situation that unequivocally makes our community a stronger and brighter place for all, one life, one business, at a time.”

Originally published by the University of Oregon – Youth Transition Program.


Fall Fun: Music in the Park


Columbia Basin Care’s outdoor music series continues this fall with a schedule of lively concerts and special events.  These activities are free and open to Residents, Staff, Family & Friends.

Join us!

Sunday, Sept 10 at 6pm
In the Courtyard 
Rule Beasley & Lloyd Walworth – piano & percussions

Sunday, Sept 17 at 6pm
In the Park
Tygh Valley Jam Band – folk & favorites

Sunday, Sept 24 at 6pm
In the Park
Hardshell Harmony – bluegrass with kick

Sunday, Oct 1 at 6pm
In the Park
Ted Horwitz – one-man show

Saturday, Oct 14 from 2 to 4pm
Harvest Party!
Food, games, music & fun for all ages
Willy & Nelson – acoustic duo


In the event of inclement weather, activities will be held in the Dining Room. 


Joe Fischer named Food Service Director


Joe Fischer jokes that he grew up in a nursing home.

The son of a single mom who worked as an aide in a nursing home, Fischer spent his early years surrounded by the love and attention of “50 different grandmothers” (when he wasn’t chatting with staff in the break room).

Later, when his family owned Edna’s Country Kitchen in Parkdale, he was immersed in the kitchen. “I’ve always been cooking,” he says.

As an adult, he combined these two foundations — seniors and cooking — into a career. After serving nearly three years as a cook at Columbia Basin Care, Joe Fischer was recently named Food Service Director. He replaces Jill Lindstrand who has relocated to Texas.

Located in The Dalles, Columbia Basin Care is the region’s only non-profit, community-owned, skilled rehabilitation and nursing facility. It is home to over 60 residents and employs nearly 100 people.

Fischer has worked throughout the Columbia River Gorge region, including 15 years as a CNA/CMA, and eight years with Heart of Hospice. In addition, he is a certified administrator for Assisted Living Facilities/Resident Care Facilities.

With his background, Joe is naturally drawn to improving the lives of others.

“I’ll always be an advocate for the Resident,” he says, “and will talk to the Doctor and Dietitian to find the nutrition and diet best suited to each person.”

Joe was born in Denver, Colorado, and raised in Parkdale, Oregon. He and his wife, Becki, have three children (Rhianna, Kaleena and Tristan) and three dogs (two boxers and a dachshund).



Making Sense of Medicare & Medicaid


Navigating medical costs and coverage can be confusing. Need some guidance? Let this overview steer you through:

Medicare and Medicaid are two separate government programs created in 1965 by President Lyndon Johnson as part of a social commitment to meeting individual health care needs.

Medicare is the federal government’s health insurance program for people age 65 or older, and those with severe disabilities. Medicare covers some services in a nursing facility. Medicare does not cover long-term care costs.

Medicare has several parts:

Part A helps pay for:

  • Hospital Care
  • Skilled Nursing or Rehabilitation Care (in a skilled nursing facility)
  • Home Health Care
  • Hospice Care

Part A provides up to 100 days per year in a skilled nursing facility if you have a 3-day qualifying stay in a hospital and require services meeting the definition of “skilled” in the Medicare guidelines. Part A pays 100% for days 1-20; there is a co-pay for days 21-100. Most Medicare co-insurance plans pay the co-pay.

Part B is an optional medical insurance for which you pay a monthly premium that covers many outpatient services. Part B insurance primarily covers outpatient services but may cover some services while a person is a Resident in a nursing facility. For example, someone who does not have a 3-day hospital stay prior to admission and is “private pay” for their room & board, can have therapy services billed under Part B.

Part C is known as Medicare Advantage, or private insurance. The cost of Advantage plans varies by carrier, county of residence, and plan selected. To enroll in a Part C plan, you must first be enrolled in both Parts A and B.  Medicare Part C is voluntary.  Many people prefer traditional Medicare supplements and do not want a Part C Medicare Advantage plan.

Part D covers prescription drugs when you choose a carrier and enroll in their drug plan. Most states have many plans to choose from and people often work with an agent to navigate the many options.

Medicaid is a public insurance program providing health care coverage to low-income families and individuals, including children, parents, pregnant women, seniors, and people with disabilities; it is funded by the state and federal government.

Each state operates its own Medicaid program within federal guidelines. Because the federal guidelines are broad, states have a great deal of flexibility in designing and administering their programs. As a result, Medicaid eligibility and benefits often vary widely from state to state.

Medicaid does not provide health care directly. Instead, it pays hospitals, doctors, nursing homes, managed care plans, and other health care providers for covered services that they deliver to eligible patients. (Health care providers are not required to participate in Medicaid, and not all do.)

  • Medicaid covers more than 60 percent of all nursing home residents and 40 percent of costs for long-term care services and supports.
  • Medicaid provides health coverage for one in five Americans, or 97 million low-income Americans annually.
  • Many of those on Medicaid are middle class individuals who spent all of their savings on care before becoming eligible.


We’re happy to help you walk through the process and coverage of your skilled facility needs. Our Executive Director and Social Services Director are happy to answer your questions. Feel free to call or drop in. Columbia Basin Care is located at 1015 Webber St in The Dalles, Oregon,  541.296.2156. 



The Pleasure of Plants



George likes to get his hands dirty. Digging deep into potting soil, he and other residents at Columbia Basin Care are making a home for small indoor plants, and boosting their own health and happiness too.

While many residents enjoy our outdoor raised-bed gardens, some prefer the cooler climate and less strenuous activity of tending to house plants. Indoor gardening offers many of the same benefits.

jean-plantingnorm-plantingbobbie-plantingResearch indicates that planting and tending to growing things is especially good for those with dementia and depression. As with pets and children, plants teach us how to be attentive and responsive to the needs of others, which improves our levels of empathy and compassion. The activity also exercises cognitive and motor skills.

Studies show that indoor plants improve air quality by filtering toxins that get trapped indoors, which can improve air quality.  That, in turn, can lower the risk of respiratory disorders, as well as chronic headaches and eye irritation.

Best, and perhaps most simply, a healthy house plant provides a sense of beauty and accomplishment.



Now, That’s Dedication!


It’s a season of celebration at Columbia Basin Care, where we’re honoring three employees who have dedicated their careers to Columbia Basin Care:


Maintenance Assistant
30 years

“I do a little bit of everything,” says Forest Cline, whose can-do disposition has led to a 30-year career at Columbia Basin Care.

He joined Columbia Basin in 1987 when he was just 19 years old. His mother worked as a bookkeeper at the facility, and he was hired to work in the kitchen. Realizing his skill with tools and machinery, Cline moved into janitorial and maintenance work — where he now plays a critical role in keeping systems running and people happy.

From waxing floors to wheelchair repair, Cline is a jack-of-all-trades. You’ll find him painting, bringing plants to life in 100-degree heat, and then cheerfully chatting with residents.

Over 30 years, Forest has seen a lot of changes and he’s proud to be a part of the improvements, from renovations to equipment upgrades to increased professionalism. But always, he says, it’s the people that matter most. “The important thing is the residents, and keeping them happy.”

julie-kimbell-1JULIE KIMBELL
Certified Nursing Assistant/Medication Aide (CNA/CMA)
29 years

From an early age, Julie Kimbell felt the pull to help others. She channeled that passion into nursing and joined Columbia Basin in 1988 — 29 years ago.

She provides hands-on nursing care, assisting residents with bathing, dressing, eating, toileting and more. “It’s the hardest work you’ll ever do,” she says, “but it’s the most rewarding,”

She is both a certified nursing assistant and a certified medication aide and though she’s considered moving into a leadership position, she prefers the individual care and attention her current role allows.  “As a CNA, I get more resident interaction. I can make their lives better while I’m here, while they’re here.”

“You have to love people,” she says, as she shares a laugh with a resident. “You’re important to their lives. You make a difference.”

janet-final-lightenedJANET SULLIVAN
Medical Records Manager
28 years

Janet Sullivan has worked at Columbia Basin Care for 28 years. She joined the company in 1989, and has hands-on knowledge of nearly every department. She’s worked as a certified nursing assistant, human resources director, activities director, and accounts payable. She is now the Medical Records Manager.

Organized and tidy, record management seems a perfect fit. “I like order,” says Janet. “I love to purge charts. It’s like cleaning a dirty floor and you see how nice and clean everything is when you’re done. “

But her work is more than just data. Her fondness for the residents of Columbia Basin Care is the driving force of her dedication. “I go home and I worry about them because I care about them,” she says. “You’re not just taking care of them. You’re taking care of them, their family, their emotions . . .”

Working in long-term care is not for everyone. “You must be a team player, have a heart, and be a hard worker,” says Janet. “You must be completely willing to get your hands dirty.”

Executive Director Fosters A Positive Environment



What do you want to be when you grow up? And if you’re doing it, what did you do to get there? How did you know it’s right for you?

The number of opportunities after graduation feels limitless to many students. But opportunity can also feel daunting. How do you know that your passion and abilities will translate to the real world? For many students, that answer lies not in the classroom, but in the community, where it takes the form of internships, research, service learning, and global and leadership opportunities.

It’s through these activities, dubbed Experiential Learning, that students are exposed to people and circumstances different than their own and through which they discover the relevance of learning – and more about themselves.

Public health alumna Aubree Olmstead, BS ’15, experienced this firsthand. In her final term, she completed a required 360-hour internship at Columbia Basin Care, a skilled nursing facility in The Dalles, about a half hour from where she grew up in Hood River.

For Aubree, the internship wasn’t just another box to check. “I looked at it as a chance to see if I liked the field and to hone in on my skill set.”

“I tell students to be open to all possibilities,” says Karen Elliott, who teaches a pre-internship course and assists in helping students find internships throughout the state and sometimes internationally. “When you stop thinking about a grade or credits and ask yourself, ‘What do I want to do?,  you discover amazing things about yourself, what fuels your fire and what gets you going.”

Aubree took that advice. The first Beaver alum in her family, she also credits professors and instructors, including Karen, who brought their passion and real-world experience to the classroom.

A little over halfway through her internship at Columbia Basin, Aubree was offered an Administrator in Training (AIT) position – 960 hours of training under the supervision of a preceptor – with the understanding that she would become administrator after completion. During that time, she worked to gain a diverse understanding of operations, covering areas such as leadership and management, quality of care, human resources, finance, and the physical environment.

The 22-year-old successfully completed both her internship and AIT and has served as executive director since May 2016, managing 100-plus employees in the 90-bed facility.

“My roles tie directly into what I studied while at Oregon State,” Aubree says. “I truly believe my education and degree gave me a competitive advantage and the knowledge I need to ensure I am successful as I move throughout my career.”

That’s music to Karen’s ears. “It’s truly rewarding to see students excel and be involved in this process that can be life changing,” she says.

To ensure that all students get this same opportunity to succeed, the college initiated a series of changes in 2015 that began with the creation of its Office of Student Success.That change transformed the academic advising office into a hub of services that support students, including study abroad, career and professional development, peer advisors and an internship coordinator. The team, led by Associate Dean for Student Success Vicki Ebbeck, is working to increase the college’s number of experiential learning opportunities, including new experiences in the Dominican Republic, Bangalore and Botswana. These experiences add to its existing programs, such as with Fu Jen Catholic University in Taiwan, the longest faculty-led program at Oregon State.

Experiential learning promotes student success, Vicki says. “Research shows that students are more likely to persist with their studies and improve their academic performance, and that every student benefits – especially historically underserved students. The key is to engage all students in these high-impact practices that can be transformative.”

Aubree’s advice for current students is to see college and the path after graduation as an opportunity for growth. “Look outside your comfort zone, explore options, set goals, value your time, identify a role model or mentor and take chances,” she says, “but most of all respect yourself and those around you.”

She puts her advice into practice daily, whether it’s overseeing departments, managing employees, staying within budget, working with local hospitals and physicians, or staying on top of a stream of new rules and changing regulations.

“There is always something to be learned and something to be improved upon,” Aubree says. “I enjoy working with diverse groups and finding ways to encourage, lead and manage my staff. Knowing what makes them ‘tick’ is important, and I think that’s what excites me most. Fostering a positive environment truly creates increased success and happiness all the way to those we interact with and have the opportunity to serve.”

— by Kathryn Stroppel. Republished from Oregon State University’s College of Public Health and Human Sciences.