Friends with a Mission
How Hill Country Transformed Rural Health Care…
In 1985, Hill Country Community Clinic opened in a doublewide on donated land in Round Mountain with a small staff who initially all worked for free. Today, Hill Country Health & Wellness Center has a $22 million budget, 210 employees and operates from a modern clinic containing a community center in Round Mountain, as well as two locations in Redding and a site in Burney. Services encompass medical, dental, chiropractic, substance use and mental health, plus an urgent mental health walk-in clinic, mental health crisis outreach team, wraparound services for youth and supportive housing.
So how did all that happen?
The story of Hill Country is grounded in friendship and infused with generosity. Four decades ago, four friends with a mix of expertise came up with the idea of a clinic to serve the rural health needs of Round Mountain, Montgomery Creek, Big Bend and Oak Run east of Redding. A $30,000 grant from The Irvine Foundation covered costs of a modular building; a retiring physician in Redding donated the medical equipment. The nonprofit clinic opened with a doctor, nurse practitioner, nurse and three other employees. There weren’t any paychecks at the start (within a few months everyone was making $5 an hour). To keep the place running, supporters held a walk-a-thon and sold T-shirts, corn-on-the-cob and ravioli dinners.
The little clinic’s philosophy: Healthcare with heart, soul and personality.
“In 1985, when the doors opened, I think the patients came into that environment with a lot of happy people who were not pretending to know it all. They felt a part of that. It felt like community,” says Lynn Dorroh, one of the founders. A marriage and family therapist, she took on different roles at Hill Country and was CEO from 2004 until retiring in spring of 2022. She’s now strategic advisor. The other founders were Joe Stenger, the clinic’s original doctor, and Kathleen Hardie and her brother Richard Hardie.
The clinic was destroyed in the 1992 Fountain Fire but reopened six months later. Dorroh says Hill Country came back stronger. “After the Fountain Fire, the clinic became more important in the community.”
Hill Country grew in response to needs. “We just kept adding things,” Dorroh says. “We were the first clinic north of Sacramento to open a dental operation. People had been driving more than 100 miles to get dental care.”
The Affordable Care Act and other health system changes led to new contracts. Donations and grants supported expansion. With a contemporary, spacious addition to the Round Mountain clinic in 2009, the nonprofit took on a new name: Hill Country Health & Wellness Center. A satellite clinic was established in Redding in 2015 when Hill Country realized half its patients were coming from Redding to Round Mountain for appointments.
Hill Country’s Center of Hope wellness campus opened in Redding in 2021, offering medical, dental, behavioral health, psychology and chiropractic services. It also includes four dormitory-style apartments for 16 students who are finishing school and find themselves without stable housing.
Shasta County has plenty of health challenges and Hill Country works to be involved on many fronts. Housing is one of them. “We’re a partner in trying to help create housing solutions,” says Hill Country CEO Jo Campbell. “What are the pieces and parts that we need to put in place so people can accomplish their wellness goals? If you can give someone a door, bed and place to lock their things, it’s a game-changer.”
Hill Country uses an integrated approach to healthcare – a whole-person focus. Doctors, nurse practitioners, physician assistants, behavior health therapists and substance-use counselors work in teams to care for body, mind, spirit.
“It’s meeting people where they are – whatever is going on medically, but also what is going on emotionally,” explains Campbell, who joined Hill Country in 2018 as a clinical social worker and was operations director before becoming CEO. “If you come to see a doctor, you don’t leave your stress and anxiety in the car when you come in. It comes with you.”
An example of the team strategy would be a doctor bringing a mental-health therapist into the room if a patient were to break into tears during a visit. Team members connect patients to different resources.
The integrated approach comes from Hill Country’s Round Mountain roots. Rural residents can be hesitant to engage in health care systems and often travel long distances to reach a doctor, so “you want to make the most of that visit because you are just not sure that person will come back,” Campbell notes.
Collaboration is key to addressing regional health needs, and Hill Country works with other agencies and entities. “We absolutely could not do what we do without real robust partnerships in the community,” Campbell says.•
Hill Country offers healthcare for all ages and accepts most private insurance, Medi-Cal and Medicare