Rim Country’s large population of low-income and uninsured residents could make it an ideal location for a new, federally-funded community health care clinic, said Amanda Guay, director of outreach and clinical programs for North Country HealthCare.
Health clinics offer family and prenatal care along with cancer screenings and disease management on a sliding scale to those uninsured, on Medicaid or Medicare.
“The main purpose of community health centers is to make sure the underserved are served,” said Guay.
North Country is partnering with Mogollon Health Alliance, however, director Judy Baker was unavailable for comment.
Gila County is “one of the only, if we’re not the only” county without a clinic in the state, said David Fletcher, director of the Gila County Health Department.
Fletcher has worked for at least a decade to bring a health clinic to the county.
Previous efforts to build one locally have not materialized. “I don’t know why,” Fletcher said. “I guess it has to do with business plans or funding.”
While he is not directly involved in current discussions, his department has helped gather statistics for the ongoing needs assessment.
“If we’re ever going to help with the homeless issue and the health outcomes of individuals who don’t have medical care in Gila County, then it would be really important to get one of these federally funded community health care clinics established,” Fletcher said.
The needs assessment is examining local access to care, health outcomes for sick people, whether residents suffer disproportionately from certain conditions, and the prevalence of underweight babies.
Gila County had the third highest rate of diabetes-related deaths in 2008, at 74 per 100,000, according to the Arizona Department of Health Services.
It also had the second lowest rate statewide of women receiving prenatal care in the first trimester of pregnancy, and the highest incidence of babies with low birth weight.
Also in 2008, nearly 63 percent of births in Rim Country were paid for by a public plan like the Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System (AHCCCS).
Payson Regional Medical Center usually spends about $2.3 million on charity care annually. PRMC Director Chris Wolf has reported that two-thirds of the center’s patients are covered by either AHCCCS or Medicare, which covers people with disabilities and those older than 65 regardless of income.
North Country surveyed people at the recent community health fair, and found high interest in low-cost dental and pharmacy services, and a lot of small-business owners wanted health care options for their employees, said Guay.
Payson’s Christian Clinic serves a similar population, however the center has limited hours and can reportedly have a long waiting list. Guay said North Country is interested in building partnerships with existing agencies like the Payson Christian Clinic and Southwest Behavioral Health Services.
North Country would move into existing facilities, and although Guay isn’t sure when funding will become available, she said a clinic could open 120 days after receiving money. The federal Health Resources and Services Administration provides the so-called “access point funding.”
“When the time is right, we’ll be applying for the grant,” Guay said. “It’s a crazy hustle bustle when you get the access point funding.”
The clinic would likely cull doctors already living in the community.
North Country has 11 locations across Arizona, including Flagstaff and Show Low.