Health Districts and Local Government – Focus on Coos County

Health Districts and Local Government – Focus on Coos County

by Annette Shelton-Tiderman

October 25, 2016

Over the years, we've become accustomed to shifts in area employment depending on the industry as well as the overall economy. One industry sector stands out, almost alone, in its success in weathering the stormy seas of the Great Recession and the subsequent, uneven recovery. Whether we're looking at Southwestern Oregon's Coos County, the state, or the nation, health care has not only maintained a strong employment base, it has steadily expanded. Perhaps more than many other industries, health care responds directly to the demands of a growing and aging population. Given the limited number of businesses engaged in private health care, this industry sector is combined with that of private educational services for employment reporting purposes.

Health Services Are Provided by Private Businesses and Local Government

Between 2006, when the local economy peaked, and the bottom of the county's recessionary losses in 2010, Coos County's total nonfarm employment dropped by nearly 10 percent. The professional and business services sector declined by 31 percent. However, private health and education services employment grew almost 12 percent. By 2015, this industry sector's employment had rocketed a surprising 26 percent over pre-recession levels.

Nonetheless, when it comes to examining employment in health care and related activities, the standard reporting format's breakout by private and public sector entities doesn't completely capture the overall health of this industry sector.

Rural Oregon communities, faced with access-to-care challenges, have turned to the creation of health care or hospital districts. These taxpayer-owned public entities provide critical emergency rooms, outpatient as well as inpatient care where the next-nearest options are typically miles away. Oregon Revised Statutes provide guidelines for the formation and operating parameters for these public organizations. Since they are municipal corporations governed by local voters and often supported, in part, by property taxes, they are a form of local government. Their employees are reported as public-sector workers.

This subtle distinction is important in Coos County; the three hospitals are all health districts. Bay Area Hospital in Coos Bay is not only the largest hospital on the Oregon Coast, it is also the largest of Oregon's public district-operated hospitals. Twenty miles to the south, the Coquille Valley Hospital District is owned by the residents of Coquille and the nearby vicinity. This small facility serves fewer than 15,000 people. Coos County's third publically owned hospital is Bandon-based Southern Coos Hospital and Health Center. It was founded by a public vote in 1955 and serves southern Coos County and northern Curry County. To examine the impact of the workforce employed by these three health districts, one needs to turn to employment figures reported under local government.

Since private-sector health services employment is typically combined with private education, to encompass the same workforce from local government, it is helpful to combine all public-sector health services workers and public education workers into a new group separate from other local government workers. The new category, when added to the comparable employment base found in private business, shows that health and education services is Coos County's number one employing arena. Thus, it can easily be seen that the steady employment growth in the private health and education services sector over the past 10 years tells only part of the story. The economic impact and overall contribution of this combined industry holds its own when compared with other sectors.