Tonto Basin once again has access to primary care medical services, after two years without a practicing physician in town.
Dr. Douglas Campbell and a physician’s assistant will now operate a medical clinic from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., Monday, Wednesday and Friday at 186 E. Stephens Way in Tonto Basin. The clinic shares office space with the Tonto Basin Dental Clinic, which has provided space for medical care off and on for the past 20 years. The dental clinic operates when the medical clinic doesn’t.
The Globe-based regional medical center already operates a clinic in Young and is returning to Tonto Basin, having operated a clinic there for a decade previously.
“Part of our mission is to serve the underserved areas within 50 miles of the regional medical center,” said Evelya Vargas, chief executive officer of the 25-bed Cobre Valley Regional Medical Center.
The medical center recently spent $29 million to expand and overhaul the 65,000-square-foot medical center in Globe, which grew out of a hospital operated by a mining company when Globe was a company town.
The hospital has an array of diagnostic and specialty services, as well as a partnership with Mayo Clinic to treat strokes and neurological problems. The Tonto Basin Clinic handles primary care visits and services, with more advanced, complicated problems still requiring a transfer to another hospital — either in Globe or Payson or the Valley.
“We are about rural communities,” said Vargas, a Globe native. “We can call our patients by name and know if their kids play on the basketball team. We’re not a feeder system to some larger system. We know that if you receive bad service, your neighbor is going to hear about it.
The clinic will restore nearby access to primary care medicine for the 3,000 residents of Tonto Basin, who have had to travel to Payson or Globe for the past three years to get even routine medical services. The basin has a large number of seniors, with a median age of 60. Tonto Basin also has a high poverty rate — about 20 percent — compared to a statewide rate of 17 percent, according to census figures.
Rural areas on the national face big problems in obtaining medical care, according to numerous studies.
Gila County has among the state’s lowest rates of medical insurance and highest rates of medical problems, including premature deaths, according to the University of Arizona’s rural health office. The passage of the Affordable Care Act reduced the number of uninsured residents by 50 percent, but problems remain.
Vargas estimated that the nonprofit Cobre Valley Regional Medical Center racks up about $3 million annually in uncompensated care, due largely to people without insurance who can’t pay their bills.
About 17 percent of Arizona residents had no medical insurance before passage of the Affordable Care Act, compared to 16 percent nationally. By 2017, only 10 percent of Arizonans had no medical insurance, compared to 9 percent nationally. However, in Gila County, in 2016, 14 percent of residents still lacked insurance.
In Gila County, about 13,000 people rely on the Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System (AHCCCS), the state’s version of the mostly federally funded Medicaid program. About 1,300 people gained coverage through the Affordable Care Act, according to statistics compiled by the UA Office of Rural Health. About 90 percent of those patients got some kind of subsidy, including tax credits or cost sharing.
Gila County has 51 primary care doctors for every 100,000 people, 56 mental health providers and 55 other providers. By contrast, Arizona has 234 physicians per 100,000 population.
The clinic will operate in space first provided by Earl Stephens, a longtime community leader. John and Carol Dryer now own and operate the dental clinic, which provides offices and an examination room for the medical clinic. Dr. Mark Ivey provided medical care through the clinic until his retirement some two years ago.