Hopes, Prayers, Blessings for New Medical Center

Article excerpt

Byline: Bob Keefer The Register-Guard

SPRINGFIELD - As an osprey shrieked overhead and the McKenzie River flowed nearby, PeaceHealth officials on Thursday dedicated what they termed the "holy ground" that will become a $350 million regional medical center in three years.

About 400 public officials, PeaceHealth employees and other guests packed a white-roofed tent at the Gateway site for a ceremony that celebrated the corporation's five-year effort to place the RiverBend medical center on the pristine and largely undeveloped riverfront property.

"Imagine a place," intoned PeaceHealth CEO and Chief Mission Officer Alan Yordy, "where life begins, where life changes and where life ends - but nobody ever dies alone."

The ceremony marked a turning point for PeaceHealth, which finally has overcome all formal opposition to its plan to move Sacred Heart Medical Center from its downtown Eugene location to the riverfront site.

In talking about the need for a new hospital, Yordy described the extensive and ultimately successful surgical care received at Sacred Heart by Tony Case, a survivor of the Thurston High School shootings in 1998.

With the help of surgical care he received at the hospital, Yordy said, Case survived four bullet wounds and went on to study physics at the University of Oregon. He hopes to become an astronaut.

"This is the kind of story - and these are the kinds of miracles - that take place when you have the best of medical facilities - and hope," Yordy said. "We hope that will be RiverBend."

Yordy also drew laughter from the crowd. "Imagine a place," he said, "where there will be enough parking."

The hourlong ceremony opened with a gong and with live harp music played by the Sacred Heart Medical Center Music Thanatologists, who more generally perform for the dying.

On each side of the tent's entrance were "mission fires," burning in earthenware pots, from which a flame was taken to light the "mission candle" on the dais.

Guests were invited to write a hope, prayer or blessing on slips of paper and then burn them in the fires.

More formal blessings were offered by an American Indian elder, a Muslim imam, a Jewish rabbi and Protestant and Catholic priests. The University of Oregon Gospel Choir sang.

Sister Barbara Haase, a member of the order of Catholic nuns that took a foundering hospital in Eugene in 1936 and turned it into a financially thriving regional medical center, read the story of the burning bush from Exodus. In it, God tells Moses that "the place on which you are standing is holy ground."

Then a cantor sang, "This is holy ground. We are standing on holy ground."

Absent from the dedication ceremony were John and Robin Jaqua, who own land across the river from RiverBend. Unhappy with the project's impact on the river area, the Jaquas fought PeaceHealth all the way to the Oregon Court of Appeals before reaching a settlement last year that limited the medical center's height and its closeness to the water. …