Don Lemmon started in mid-January ago as the chief executive of Providence Seaside Hospital. He replaced Kendall Sawa, who was recently named chief operating officer of Providence Portland Medical Center.

Originally from Pennsylvania, Lemmon started as a paramedic with a helicopter service. He worked as a respiratory therapist and later a cardiac stenographer. Trained in health care and business administration, he served as vice president of Brookville Hospital and later DuBois Regional Medical Center in Pennsylvania.

Four years ago, Lemmon and his wife, Kathy, relocated to Hood River to be near one of their four children. He took over as director of operations at Providence Hood River Memorial Hospital before accepting the position in Seaside.

Q: What sort of initiatives are you overseeing at Providence Seaside?

A: The emergency department expansion is the big one, for sure. We also have some changes that will be occurring with a new CT scanner, sort of a new MRI scanner that was recently purchased. The trailer that’s in front of the facility that’s parked out there will be moved out. The new MRI will be housed in the facility near the emergency department. We also have an upgrade and renovations that will be occurring in our pharmacy to be in compliance with federal regulations that were recently put in place to upgrade the pharmacy for the mixing hoods.

My main focus is to be able to provide basic services for our community. The need for access to primary care is huge, and we’ve recently hired three primary care providers who just started this week, a primary care physician and two primary care nurse practitioners who just came on board this week.

Q: What are the challenges of recruiting new physicians?

A: Physician recruitment in any rural area is a little more difficult than it is in a large city. But having said that, the draw to an area like this, the same as to Hood River, is really the area itself. There are providers out there who are looking for an opportunity to work in such a beautiful place as Seaside, Oregon, and Hood River, Oregon.

We have a full recruitment team that Providence employs that works very diligently to advertise and to find candidates. Those candidates have their (curriculum vitae) sent to the hospital, where they’re reviewed, and we consider bringing them in for an interview.

Q: What are some of the opportunities and challenges faced by a rural hospital like Providence Seaside?

A: Plenty of opportunities. I just talked recently with the director of our social work in regards to dealing with food insecurity and housing insecurity. There are homeless people in the area and throughout the state and the country, and those individuals who can’t afford fresh fruits and vegetables. So we have programs in place, a wonderful food pantry here, that helps with those challenges. That’s definitely a focus we have. Providence focuses on providing care for everyone, but especially the poor and vulnerable. Food-challenged and housing-challenged individuals are those unfortunate few that require special attention.

Here in Seaside, we do have a lot of telemedicine opportunities that are in place for services. Even though you’re in a rural setting in Seaside, you can have specialists that are located in Portland that are coming across the computer to interact with you and treat patients. It’s a great opportunity.

I really would like to work closely with our community partners and partner with our area hospitals to really strengthen services in Clatsop County. The community health needs assessment certainly has areas where we can all focus and help to improve.

Behavioral health is I believe a tough challenge for all of us. Plenty of great services available in Clatsop County, but they can also be strengthened. There needs to be a greater focus on behavioral health, and I believe more federal funding moved in that direction to strengthen it.

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