One organization wanted to expand and enhance its outpatient physical therapy services. The other wanted to explore new directions without disrupting services to its loyal clientele.
Mid-Columbia Medical Center's recent purchase of East Cascade Physical Therapy is a win-win situation for all involved -- the hospital, East Cascade's founders, Rich Miller, Bob Hill and Karen Miller and the center's current and future patients.
It also brings the Millers and Hill almost full circle, back to where they began in The Dalles more than 30 years ago. Then they were newcomers to the area, fresh out of training, with Rich Miller and Bob Hill starting their new careers as physical therapists with Mid-Columbia Medical Center.
"Selling to the hospital will allow for a continuity of care that means our patients won't even notice a blip," said Hill. "Our staff have been given the opportunity to stay on; patients will receive care in the same location. It will be a very smooth transition."
That transition officially begins Oct. 1 when MCMC takes over the operation of East Cascade, which since 1984 has been offering comprehensive outpatient rehabilitation services to patients returning to health from an array of illnesses, injuries and chronic conditions.
"East Cascade has a rich history of service to Mid-Columbia residents working to regain their quality of life after an injury or illness," said MCMC CEO Duane Francis. "We look forward to continuing and expanding on the strong foundation that Rich Miller, Bob Hill and Karen Miller have built."
MCMC will keep the services that East Cascade has developed and will continue looking for opportunities to enhance the offerings if required to meet patient need.
East Cascade Physical Therapy has traditionally provided a wide range of therapy services.
The comprehensive, state-of-the-art business East Cascade has evolved into is a far cry from its origins, when Rich Miller and Hill took an idea and turned it into a business plan.
The Millers and Hill had met in the mid-70s, when all three were involved in the University of Nebraska physical therapy program. Rich Miller was working in the PT department of the university's medical school, and one of the students he was mentoring was Hill, who was two years behind him.
Miller in turn was working with a resident instructor named Dr. Bruce Schwartz, an orthopedic surgeon with plans to move to The Dalles and start his practice. Schwartz first recruited fellow Nebraska alum Dr. Robert Staver to move out and be his partner. Then, knowing his practice would need the services of a good physical therapist, he went after Miller.
Staver and the Millers left Nebraska for The Dalles within two weeks of each other, with Rich joining the hospital to head its new physical therapy department. A year later Miller was meeting Hill in the Denver airport, encouraging his friend to move west and join him.
"He only had to say two things to convince me -- the fly fishing was good, and it was close to snow skiing," Hill remembered.
Ten years later the pair left the hospital to start their own rehabilitation business.
"We still had a great relationship with MCMC so we continued to do the hospital's rehabilitation work," Miller said. "And that relationship has just grown over the years."
A lifelong Midwesterner, Karen Miller figured she would give The Dalles one year. Soon one turned to 10, and in 1984, when Karen joined her husband and Hill at East Cascade, she knew they were in town to stay. Thirty-three years later and looking forward to a slower pace, Karen still is not going anywhere -- at least not permanently.
"I'm really gratified that we've been able to call The Dalles home for all these years," she said. "The hardest part of this transition will be not being around our wonderful staff as often. Since we are all from the Midwest, they are our extended family. They will always be our friends."
For the last several years Karen has worked on contract with MCMC extending East Cascade's services to homebound people through the hospital's Visiting Health Services. She will continue to provide services on a scaled-back basis. Rich and Bob, meanwhile, will continue to run East Cascade's Goldendale office.
As he reflects on his years at East Cascade Hill said his biggest rewards have come from his relationships with the people around him. "We've always had a great relationship with the physicians and providers in our community," he said. "And our staff has always been great to work with. As a result of those positive relationships I think people in the Gorge have really benefited from good care."
Rich Miller concurred. "If you love your work, your work is play, and all the people we have worked with and cared for over the years have made this a very good career choice," he said. "It's just time to step back and enjoy a little time off. And we can comfortably do that knowing we've left our patients in good hands."