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-stay 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,