Sheri Bodager, vice president and executive director for Asante Physician Partners, is helping to lead an effort to attract physicians to the area who will be good fits not only for the hospitals, but for the region. - Mail Tribune / Julia Moore

Asante builds a staff for the future

Asante has the facilities and setting to attract top-of-the-line physicians to the Rogue Valley.

Those doctors, however, often have lucrative offers to practice medicine elsewhere and spouses who may be lukewarm to living far from the metropolitan buzz.

Asante, which dropped "Health System" from its corporate identity earlier this week, is becoming more aggressive in its pursuit of physicians to staff its hospitals in Medford and Grants Pass. The health care system recently launched Asante Physician Partners, an organization that has 115 physicians, nurse practitioners, physician's assistants and mid-level providers, seeking to leverage their insights and abilities to attract more doctors to Southern Oregon.

"Five years ago, we lost a number of physicians because it was too small here," said Sheri Bodager, vice president and executive director for Asante Physician Partners. "We've done a better job of screening since then to make it clear this is not Portland, Chicago or San Francisco. We want them to be outdoor people and like what we have in Southern Oregon and eliminate those who don't."

Asante's primary scope might be Jackson and Josephine counties, but its broader regional footprint covers nine Northern California and Southern Oregon counties. It acknowledged that regional identity this week by renaming its Medford hospital as Asante Rogue Regional Medical Center and its Grants Pass hospital as Asante Three Rivers Medical Center.

The health care organization, with nearly 3,800 employees, produced revenue of $480 million in 2011, up from $450 million in 2009. The average age of Asante's doctors is 53, meaning replacements will be needed for many over the next decade. (Correction: See below)

"We want to strengthen and reinforce ourselves as a system," said Frank Faust, Asante's vice president of strategy and business. (Correction: See below) "The challenge we face in the future is finding physicians in key areas so patients know they don't need to leave the area to get care they can receive at home."

As a result, Asante plans to hire 40 doctors — some replacements and some for new positions — in the next two or three years, Bodager said, with the majority in primary care. She moved here from the Midwest seven years ago and began shaping her present role 18 months ago as Asante geared up for changes brought on by the Affordable Healthcare Act.

"Asante realized the world was going to change and transform the way we deliver care," Bodager said. "We realized we needed to align ourselves with physicians in how we were going to deliver that care."

Her dual task is to work with Asante Physician Partners (APP) while retaining and recruiting doctors to fill medical and community needs.

"We definitely want to keep everyone on the same page," Bodager said. "We're all peers, but it (the partners group) does have a physicians' board. So, it's physician-driven and professionally managed."

In addition to monitoring resume websites, Asante works with recruiting agencies to help narrow down potential new physicians.

"We screen them and they screen us," she said.

Asante has generated 64 calls and 20 follow-up visits since the APP kicked in earlier this year.

"We're having a very good experience," Bodager said. "Most of the visits have been through spring and summer with folks falling in love with the area. When they get to the point of knowing what we're trying to build and our vision and meet people here, they get more excited."

She said Asante has extended 12 offers; eight have accepted and "others are thinking about it."

Bill Thorndike, chairman of Asante's board, said medical school relations, past associations or a desire to be work at research institutions come into play in attracting physicians. Beyond that, it takes more than a two-weeks' notice for doctors to relocate.

"There's a long gestation time between recruiting a physician and when they show up," Thorndike said.

While the all-inclusive EPIC medical records system is being implemented over the next 24 months, planting Asante firmly in the future, there are decades-old obstacles.

In some cases, Thorndike said, spouses have difficulty finding suitable employment here. Worse yet, they might not approve of the local amenities.

"We've gone after physicians, who in many cases are male, and the female is not happy with the size of our shopping and restaurant options," he said. "It's always a surprise for people to see the quantity and quality of research projects going on in our area, yet we're clearly perceived to being out in the backwoods."

Reach reporter Greg Stiles at 541-776-4463 or email

Correction: Revenue figures and Frank Faust's title have been corrected in this story.

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