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RiverBend is grand, but move produces `root shock'.

Byline: GUEST VIEWPOINT By Nowell King For The Register-Guard

A song from an old TV show kept running through my head this past Sunday as the ambulances lined up and the patients, carefully strapped to their bright yellow gurneys, were being wheeled out the door of what used to be called Sacred Heart Medical Center: Movin', movin', movin' ... keep them dogies movin', Rawhiiiidea...

I'd be the first to admit that, when it comes to RiverBend, I have been one of the curmudgeons, one of the naysayers who kept asking, long after the cranes appeared on the skyline, "Do we really want to sacrifice prime riverfront property for this project? What about the impact of sprawl? Why isn't this hospital still in Eugene?

But I've been convinced that we're building for the future. Sacred Heart probably wouldn't withstand a big quake. The design of the old place seemed to confuse people. How many times have I escorted perplexed family members searching in vain for their loved ones to curiously shaped rooms in which patients could be found lying in beds facing away from windows with no place for more than one visitor to sit? The cafeteria is drab, the carpets are thin, much of the plumbing is outdated.

Still, the old hospital has been a touchstone for some employees for more than 30 years. I haven't worked there nearly that long, but I'm going to miss the old neighborhood. No more striding past hordes of anxious UO freshman bracketed by their parents every fall. No more street people with their backpacks and their puppies on rope leashes hitting me up for spare change on my way to work. No more popping across the street for a latte at Barry's, or lingering over the stuffed bookshelves at Smith Family during my lunch hour, or getting to the Bijou just in time to catch a 5 p.m. movie.

The last few days at Sacred Heart were an odd mixture of irritation, sadness and exhilaration. The week before the move I went to lunch, and when I got back the computer I'd been using was packed up. I found a note from a co-worker while cleaning out a drawer and spent a few minutes reminiscing about the dying woman with no family we'd tried to help.

As the day of the move approached I kept feeling tears rising a little closer to the surface, my heart beating a bit more rapidly. My co-workers and I joked that we needed more chocolate, at least until we got settled in at RiverBend. Even Starbucks took notice. On the day of the move Espresso PRN offered a concoction combining marshmallow, chocolate and almond syrups called the Rocky Road.

Transitions are emotionally difficult. There is some research about what happens to people who are forced to leave their familiar surroundings. These effects - a combination of grief, disorientation and alienation - are a kind of "root shock" that transplanted PeaceHealth employees will be dealing with for some time. These reactions pale in comparison to what our patients, especially those without health insurance, have to endure - but still, this root shock, if ignored, puts the health of the new system at risk.

University District and RiverBend may be only a few miles apart but, metaphorically, River Bend feels much farther away. We've been told there are 32 elevators, 24 operating rooms, seven fireplaces and a kitchen that can turn out 48 pans of lasagna simultaneously. But those numbers just make the place seem even more like a grand gated community than that shabby old place we used to call home.

On Aug. 10, after most of the patients had been moved to RiverBend, I walked through the Intensive Care Unit with a friend. The rooms were empty. The equipment had been turned off. Open boxes of latex gloves and other supplies lay abandoned in the halls. Just hours ago, the staff had been taking care of critically ill patients. Now the place was eerily quiet. We were the only ones there. The next day, whether we felt ready or not, we knew we had to move on.

Nowell King, LCSW, is a medical social worker at PeaceHealth.
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Title Annotation:Local Opinion
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:Aug 17, 2008
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