JOHN DAY - Blue Mountain Hospital (BMH) has hired a "retained search firm" to bolster the effort to bring new physicians to the staff.

Bob Houser, chief executive officer of the hospital, said the hospital usually uses a search firm on a contingency basis, but with three vacancies to fill, officials decided to bring in a firm that gets an upfront fee for its work.

He said the retainer firms take a more active role in the search and the effort to match prospective hires with the community.

BMH is working with Pacific Companies, a California-based firm, that has been successful in placing doctors in rural areas and in this region, Houser said.

The hospital's management company also is looking for new hires. Houser said BMH will screen carefully to get doctors who will be a good fit for the community.

"There are people out there who do want to practice medicine here, and we will find them," he said.

Houser already has interviewed one candidate with a strong interest in rural health care, although that doctor may not be available for several months.

Houser said that's not uncommon.

"Typically you don't find doctors who are ready to make a move fast," he said.

He hopes to get one new doctor signed on to start in June.

That doesn't mean the shortage of family doctors will last that long, however.

Houser said the hospital will be able to bring some "locum tenens" - a Latin phrase for substitute doctors - to the area for finite periods of time. He said use of such substitutes helps preserve a practice and the level of patient care until a permanent hire arrives.

He hopes to sign on one of those temporary hires within 30-45 days.

Meanwhile, patients who go to the Strawberry Wilderness Community Clinic at the hospital still will be seen by Krissy Uehlin, a certified Physician Assistant, and Drs. Andrew Janssen, Andrea Janssen and Joe Bachtold - the latter at least through March.

Dr. Robert Holland and Lindsay Madden, a Family Nurse Practitioner, see patients at the clinic just down the street from the hospital.

There already are two openings for family physicians, and a third vacancy will occur in a couple of months. Bachtold has told the hospital he will move to Sisters to take a new job at the end of March.

Bachtold's resigation added urgency to the hiring process - and a degree of difficulty. The doctor's decision to leave came after someone poisoned the well at his home on Little Canyon Mountain.

Houser said he's had to discuss the incident with one prospective hire already.

"We had to reassure him that that's not what John Day's all about," Houser said.

Houser's still trying to convince Bachtold to stay. He said the community outrage at the well incident shows how much the doctor and his family are appreciated here.

"He's going to be missed," he said.

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