Grant Gives Tonto Basin Medical Center Needed Boost

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Tonto Basin's half-completed medical and community center got a big boost recently in the form of a $5,000 planning grant from the Gila County Board of Supervisors.

The money will be used to apply for grants and other aid to complete and equip the steel structure so the area's 2,000 full-time residents won't have to drive 40 miles to Payson or 56 miles to Globe for medical care.

The new center will provide more comprehensive medical care than the existing medical building it is replacing.

The board of Punkin Center Charities decided to pursue grant monies when the budget crisis caused state funding to dry up.

"The tobacco tax money earmarked for community medical centers is not available from last year, this year, and it looks like the next year," said Robert Elliott, a consultant who will research and apply for the grants. "There are several federal programs and grant programs from foundations that can be specifically used for capital improvements, equipment and operating expenses."

Work stopped on the unfinished building when funds dried up over a year ago.

District 2 Supervisor Jose Sanchez, who made the money available from his own reserve fund, recently toured the facility.

"All the partitions are up on the medical side of it, and a lot of the wiring is in," Sanchez said. "The back part is going to be a community center."

But most important, Sanchez said, is the fact that the entire community supports the project.

"Whenever I get behind a project like this, that's the one thing I look for community support," the supervisor said.

Elliott hopes that the new facility will eventually become a Federally Qualified Health Center (FQHC).

"Then it can cover everyone who doesn't have the ability to pay from seniors to children to members of tribes who are living off the reservation.

John Dryer, statutory agent for Punkin Center Charities the organization building the new facility says he thinks Elliott will help them hit their spring 2003 opening date target.

"It's about time we got somebody on board like Robert Elliott who can go out and pursue all the things out there," Dryer said. "There are hundreds of avenues available for rural health care things we have missed. Nobody on our board has the expertise."

Tonto Basin incorporates an area bounded on one side by the Sierra Anchas and on the other by the Mazatzal mountains. It's population doubles to about 4,000 during the summer.

"That area is growing quite a bit," Sanchez said. "Just driving by on the highway you don't notice, but there are a lot of little subdivisions.

Elliott estimates it will take close to $500,000 to finish the project.

"That would be to complete it, furnish it, and retire the existing debt of $129,000," he said.

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