Two years ago, two college students with no healthcare
background or experience decided to tackle a vexing
issue: how to provide primary care to low-income rural
residents. What began as their project for a student
competition has turned into a reality. In August,
University of Oregon business graduates Oliver Alexander,
22, and Orion Falvey, 24, opened Orchid Health, a
for-profit rural clinic offering affordable health care
in Oregon's Lane County.
Within only six weeks of opening, 428 patients had
enrolled as members of Orchid Clinic, located in Oakridge.
“That's pretty much unheard of for a new clinic
according to all our research,” Falvey said.
“Many of our members hadn't been able to get
Alexander and Falvey are determined to prove that the
thousands of hours they spent researching, developing
their model and recruiting providers that share their
vision can serve as a model for the rest of the nation
and, particularly, for the state of Oregon.
Orchid Care Plan offers a monthly membership for anyone
who wants to join, regardless of insurance status. These
members are then eligible for unlimited primary and
preventative care appointments; monthly fees range from
$39 to $69 a month, depending on age. Medicare and
Medicaid patients are not included in the monthly plan
but can still get services there, with those programs
billed for their care. Nonmembers with private insurance
pay cash for their visits, but then can submit their
bills to their insurers.
A primary care physician and family nurse practitioner
provide primary care and a Qualified Mental Health
Professional provides counseling services. Falvey and
Alexander handle the business administration and
Removing primary care and preventative care out from
under the umbrella of health insurance allows these
essential services to be provided at more affordable
prices, Alexander said. Providers also are able to spend
more time with patients because they spend less time on
insurance-related duties. As a certified Rural Health
Clinic located in a
Medically Underserved Area, Orchid Clinic also
benefits from federal incentives for accepting Medicare
and Medicaid patients.
Another advantage of this model, according to Falvey, is
that patients with chronic medical conditions can be
better managed at the clinic through regular visits.
“We would only refer out if they needed
specialist treatment,” Falvey said.
“We have a network of specialists that we know
accept Medicaid and/or have sliding scale fees for the
Recruiting staff to a rural area and an unproven model
wasn't as difficult as some might assume.
“Our providers see this as a way to get back to
delivering medical care and helping people rather than
working in a flawed system,” Alexander said.
“Providers are frustrated with the current
system because they are forced to see a huge volume of
patients each day. They feel like they are shuttling
patients in and out and compromising quality care. Dr.
(Mike) Henderson actually came to us and said he'd like
to be involved.”
“We knew recruitment to a rural area would be
one of our biggest challenges but our
model could be one of our biggest
advantages,” Falvey added.
When word spread that Falvey and Alexander were looking
for a site, Oakridge Pharmacy owner Laurie Pattie
encouraged them to locate there. The men's research
showed that Lane County Health Department and Social
Services had looked at extending care to Oakridge but
decided it wouldn't be sustainable. Estimates from the
Office of Rural Health indicated that over two-thirds
of necessary medical visits in Oakridge were unfulfilled.
Roughly one-half of Oakridge's total population was not
being served. Estimates about unserved populations didn't
even include Medicaid, Medicare and uninsured patients
who weren't receiving services at all. In Lane County,
about 95,000 residents are on the Oregon Health Plan
Ninety percent of Oakridge residents said they were
unsatisfied with local healthcare service availability,
according to a survey Alexander and Falvey administered.
Travel time to medical clinics in other locations is a
minimum of 45 minutes.
The students-turned-entrepreneurs knew they had their
location. They raised over $240,000 in start-up funds,
including a loan from the City of Oakridge to refurbish
an existing building for the clinic, and $70,000 from
Lane County lottery funds.
“We had a group of passionate business advisors
that helped us,” Falvey said. “There
were a few naysayers who saw it as something kids with
rose-colored glasses were trying to do but that comes
with every business start-up. For the most part, the
community was very supportive.”
“We were going after a target community where
other groups hadn't been successful,” Alexander
noted. “As we kept researching, spent time in
the community and showed them our business model, they
became even more supportive and realized we could be
When they first began their student project, both men
said they knew they wanted to focus on a social issue and
both were interested in healthcare. Falvey grew up in a
small Alaska town where access to services was very
limited. As a boy, Oregon native Alexander watched his
father successfully battle with cancer, and then in high
school, he participated in a project redistributing
medical waste and supplies to Third World countries.
“Healthcare is such a central part of a
person's overall happiness and success in
life,” Falvey said. “But hundreds of
thousands in Oregon, particularly in rural areas, don't
have adequate access. We wanted to impact people's
Alexander said the Angel Conference is one of the state's
largest business events, putting time and money into
promising start-up companies. Receiving the awards has
opened doors to broader funding opportunities and
approaches from other major seed funders.
“The Oregon Office of Rural Health has been so
valuable to us all along the way,” Alexander
commented. “Their data and guidance has been
one of the most important pieces to our success so
Oakridge is just the pilot site. These men plan to keep
growing their concept in other rural Oregon towns.
They've just begun.