The Dalles ball fields image

THE DALLES — Wasco County commissioners expressed support Nov. 9 for contracting with up to two online engagement services to gather public input and track community sentiment regarding the relocation of athletic fields from county-owned land to property north of the railroad tracks to make way for a new hospital complex, but suggested Mid-Columbia Medical Center (MCMC) should share some of the cost of those programs.

“The hospital is asking to use our land, by relocating the athletic fields. They should share the cost of this,” said Commissioner Scott Hege, who chairs the board.

County staff recommended using a two-pronged approach using Zen City, which focuses on gathering and analyzing information gathered on social media, and Engagement HQ (Bang the Table), which offers a project focused platform engaging the public around a specific project. Together, the two online services would cost the county about $25,000 a year.

The two services are “very similar, but very different in their approach,” said Tyler Stone, executive administrator for Wasco County. He said the platforms had all the metrics built in, and brought in data so staff did not have to gather the data from various social media platforms.

Commissioners were supportive of increasing their ability of the county to connect with the community online. “I really like the project focus and the feedback so we can know we are getting the project out there, and getting the feedback,” said Commissioner Kathy Schwartz. “I think this sounds great, and I think we need to really to be more proactive in getting information out to the community.”

Hege noted it would be interesting to see what the county was able to learn from the platforms. “People have to actually engage,” he pointed out. “I’m supportive, but I’m a little cautious. I’m not sure we will get what we want out of it. Sometimes its like pulling teeth getting engagement on things like this,” he said.

Stone noted “you get out what you put in,” and agreed with Commissioner Kramer that dedicating county staff to setting up the platforms would be a challenge.

“I’m concerned about overloading staff,” Kramer explained. He said the county had used one of the services in the past and “it was a lot of work.” Nevertheless, he was supportive of moving forward, and like Hege suggested MCMC should be approached about sharing the cost.

The discussion was advisory only, and the board was unanimously supportive of the idea. “I’ll keep moving forward, do a little more due diligence,” Stone said in response to the concerns raised by the board.

Background

MCMC proposed to the commission Nov. 3 the idea of building a new state-of-the-art hospital campus on county-owned property west of Weber Street in The Dalles by relocating the Kramer Field currently located on the property across the railroad tracks to 35 acres slated to be transfered to county ownership as a result of the Strategic Investment Program agreement between Google, the City of The Dalles and Wasco County.

Dennis Knox, president and chief executive officer at MCMC, told the commissioners the average age of hospital infrastructure in the U.S. is 11 years. “Our current hospital is 62 years old,” he said, and is outdated and costly to maintain. “It’s a money pit,” he added.

Unable to expand at its current location on 16th Street, the hospital has multiple provider locations in the city.

The proposed hospital facility would gather all MCMC medical disciplines in a single, three-story medical office building, with a five-story hospital designed with private rooms and an expanded emergency department as well as two-story cancer center and single story inpatient behavioral health facility. To make room for the hospital campus, the Kramer Field athletic complex would be moved. Proposed features a new complex could include four Little League fields in a “hub and spokes” design, tennis and pickle ball courts, a BMX track, a walking/running track around the facility connected to the riverfront trail and more.

According to the MCMC presentation, the combination of a new hospital and athletic complex would serve a “joint vision to serve our youth and care for current and future generations.”

The current 12-acre hospital site would be re-purposed as residential housing, another significant need in The Dalles, Knox said.

More information from MCMC can be found online at www.mcmc.net\futurehealthcare, where the current proposal is outlined.