Rep. Greg Walden is a blur.
The Congressman’s nine-day, 1,528-mile, trek through Oregon landed him Monday in Pendleton. After time in Prineville, Bend, Sisters, Redmond, La Grande and Enterprise, Walden said he sometimes has to ponder for a moment after waking up in the middle of the night to remember where he is. Following Pendleton comes a flurry of other stops and town halls in southern Oregon and in the Columbia Gorge.
Still, this was easy duty compared to peering over the edge of a fiscal cliff or beating back the national debt. Walden seemed relaxed and curious on his second stop of the day — a construction site where a brand new St. Anthony Hospital is in its infancy, rising from 93 acres bordering Highway 395.
Wearing a hard hat, fluorescent orange vest and safety glasses, the Congressman stood on gravel and mud outside the emerging $70 million medical center, inspecting the entrance to the Emergency Department before ducking out of the rain. Inside, he let his eyes adjust as Sellen Construction field engineer Max Hochanadel shared the stats.
“As of this morning, we had 135 workers,” Hochanadel said. “We’re approaching 100,000 man hours.”
Walden strolled along a spacious corridor-to-be. St. Anthony spokesman Larry Blanc told the congressman the hospital will have two separate sets of hallways, one public and another strictly for patients and hospital personnel to insure privacy and hygiene. The congressman watched some of the 135 workers as they labored. Floor-to-ceiling windows on the west side of the building brought in a flood of natural light to supplement work lights. Droning fans muffled the sharps sounds of hammering and the whirr of drills and welders.
“Here’s one room where you don’t want to go,” Hochanadel said, pointing to the future morgue. Walden laughed.
It was an easygoing 45-minute show-and-tell. Near the end, when someone asked about his view of the presidential inauguration, construction talk subsided. Walden cracked open his cell phone and shared some photos of President Obama and Vice President Joe Biden, taken from his seat on the platform.
After he returned his hard hat, Wyden weighed in on health issues affecting Oregonians.
About Oregon’s revolutionary change in the way it provides health care to its poorest citizens, he said providers seem to like the idea of finding efficiencies but have “nagging concerns and “lingering questions.”
“It’s a bet with the federal government,” he said. “With $1.9 billion in federal funds coming in, there’s a bet that over the 10 years, Oregon will achieve that much or more in savings.”
About the new national health insurance exchange, Wyden said, there’s fear of “unknown costs.” “The federal government is notorious for offering up prizes with price tags.”
Regarding the nation’s new health care law, he anticipated devoting plenty of time to oversight as the program rolls out.
“I have a lot of concern over how this is going to work.”
Wyden pulled up short as his phone rang. The display showed “John Boehner.”
“Hello Mr. Speaker,” Walden said. He stepped away.
Tour, phone call and interview done, Walden slipped into the passenger seat of a vehicle driven by his northeast Oregon aide, Riley Bushue, and cruised out of sight. The road trip continued.
Walden will get to sleep in his own bed in Hood River on Saturday night.
Contact Kathy Aney at email@example.com or 541-966-0810.
This story originally appeared in East Oregonian.