The empty office building at the former site of St. Anthony Hospital could become home to a new Pendleton health clinic.

Columbia River Community Health Services, Boardman, is looking to buy and renovate the three-story building with the help of a Community Development Block Grant from Business Oregon. The county board of commissioners voted 3-0 at its meeting Wednesday in Pendleton for the county to serve as the grant applicant.

Columbia River Health also runs Umatilla County’s school-based health center.

County counsel Doug Olsen said the grant would be for $1 million to $1.5 million. The three-story, 148,000-square-foot building’s real market value is nearly $311,000, according to county records. No one has occupied the building in at least three years.

Seth Withmer, CEO of Columbia River Health, told the board his organization is looking to expand into Pendleton.

“What we hope to bring to the community is basically primary care services,” he said, from family practice and pediatrics to dental and mental health services. He also said Umatilla and Morrow counties have a high rate of amblyopia, or lazy eye, but not many optometrists treat those patients because they are on Medicaid.

“We’ve been trying to fill that need in Boardman, but we need a larger area that we can set up services to have that be our central base to providing that,” Withmer said. “We’re hopeful that can be here.”

That new center would provide services to residents in Pendleton and the eastern portion of the county, he said, but making that a reality is going to take money. The site at 1455 S.E. Court Place needs “quite a bit of work” to make it functional, Withmer said, including a parking lot.

He also explained Columbia River Community Health Services receives some grant funding from the federal government and the state provides an enhanced Medicaid rate.

“We take care of everyone regardless of their ability to pay,” Wither said. “It’s not a free service. We require everyone to pay something.”

Olsen said the county would file the application, manage the grant and serve as the property owner for five years. Laura Prado with PARC Resources, Weston, said that’s a concern.

She said PARC is consulting on the project, helping prepare the grant and seeking other funds. But if the county held the title, she said, that could inhibit Columbia River Community Health from obtaining loans. Rather than ceding ownership, she said, the state would allow the parties to make a deal to limit the use of the building for the five years the county administers the grant.

Olsen said the county would prefer that.

The grant application deadline is Dec. 31, and the next deadline comes July 31, 2019. Olsen on Thursday said Columbia River Community Health Services seems determined to have that application in this year.

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