Dr. Alan Michels is a man who, as most know, is practically synonymous with health care in Rim Country. Beginning in the late 1990s as a part-time postgraduate medical resident physician, Dr. Michels was enchanted by the small-town dynamic. That enchantment coupled with seeing the clear need for more physicians in our rural community, he, along with his wife and daughter, moved to Payson permanently after his residency, beginning full-time private practice in 2001. The Michels family went on to have two sons since moving to Payson. The boys were raised and educated in Payson schools.
In the two decades since he first began to practice medicine in Payson, he has treated patients everywhere from “two seconds to 102 years old,” signing birth certificates, death certificates, and tending to the myriad health care needs that come along with every stage of life in between.
With private practice, Dr. Michels became involved with the hospital staff from the beginning of his work in Rim Country. As he became more involved in the community, his involvement in hospital leadership became a natural extension of his professional life, dedication that culminated in his appointment as Chief of Staff of Banner Payson Medical Center in January of 2019. His other projects have included being a primary founder and champion of the nonprofit Payson Christian Clinic, whose work has been essential for the treatment of the uninsured and underinsured “working poor” of the community. He has also been dedicated to the MHA Foundation in numerous branches of community outreach and educational enrichment programs.
It is no surprise that Dr. Michels would align with the MHA Foundation in the quest for health care advancement and improved medical education for the people of Rim Country. Dr. Michels would be at the top the list of experts with whom MHA Foundation would work alongside for this grassroots effort.
Dr. Michels began supporting the mission of the MHA Foundation when he was appointed to the board of directors in 2010, and he did not know anyone who was a part of the organization. He knew that the organization’s mission was in focus with his personal crusade to improve the standard of local health care via a twofold impact structure: improved patient care and technology alongside support of education programs targeting new medical practitioners who would ideally remain to practice in their rural community. Today, he is thrilled with the progress that has been made on both sides of that mission.
Sitting in his office, he is proud to reminisce about the human stories showcasing the work he has been a part of with the MHA Foundation. It is evident to see how it all works together. The MHA Foundation’s nonprofit projects align seamlessly with the operations of his own practice. The cohesion between the two align so well that patients are not even aware that so many hands, hearts, and minds have worked to bring their care to fruition. One thing he highlights is the blue paint color of the exam room walls, noting that they act in a manner similar to Hollywood green screen technology for video presentation. This enables his office to access medical experts in literally any specialty or sub-specialty of medicine by way of video phone conferencing (telemedicine), extending the ability to care for a greater variety of patients. This ability has previously been restricted to those practitioners who lived locally.
The blue walls, he explains, help to be able to accommodate any of the wide range of human skin color without distortion, an issue that used to be problematic for remote diagnostic purposes. With improvements such as this, the level of care available to people living in rural areas such as Rim Country, with the help of the MHA Foundation, is getting closer to what is available in bigger cities. Dr. Michels adds, “There is some amazing vision that has gone into this (MHA Foundation) for so many years before my time here and the forethought and innovative thinking was so impressive to me, and still is.”
According to recently published data by the Association of American Medical Colleges, Arizona’s Primary Care Physicians (PCPs) are aging, especially those practicing in rural and underserved areas. One-quarter of rural Arizona PCPs plan to retire in the next five years. To mitigate this, Dr. Michels has been partnering with the MHA Foundation through the development of educational programs with many schools (Payson Center for Success, Eastern Arizona College Payson Campus, and the University of Arizona College of Medicine Phoenix) whose students feed into his practice, and into other medical internships and later, into jobs here in our community.
He says, “We want to create opportunities for rural health care practitioners (including physician assistants, nurse practitioners, occupational therapists, and physical therapists) that live and thrive in rural areas such as ours, all over the state. This will create an amazing connected network.”
MHA Foundation has created scholarships for medical professionals that cover student loan payments during the first year of their internship. Plans are underway to increase that assistance to the first five years of the recipient’s career to help alleviate some financial stress in an area with a significantly higher cost of living with support from their local community in the hopes that, in turn, those new professionals will choose to invest their career back into that rural community.
Dr. Michels’ practice utilizes students from many of these educational programs, noting there were currently nurse practitioner interns from the University of Arizona in the office, seeing patients.
He adds, “We want to see that students who are passionate about rural medicine, that they have assistance with their education costs as well, and we are putting together programs for that.”
Dr. Michels has also always been passionate about mission work, having helped ministries in many exotic locales with needs all over the world. He then began to realize the mission work that called most to him was right here at home.
“I could have the best single impact with my time by working with the MHA Foundation. I want to look back and know that I made the biggest impact I possibly could. The MHA Foundation has such a commitment to the community that it allows me to live out those values. I love helping in the mission fields, but impacting our local mission is very important and the MHA Foundation provides that.”
In the end, Dr. Michels admits that in order to give an exhaustive listing of everything the MHA Foundation has been able to bring to health care in Payson would be, well, exhausting. There is simply so much going on, so many feet on the ground, so many wheels in motion, and all of it ultimately for improvement to the health of Rim Country, in every sense of the word.
He sums up the organization with this, “The MHA Foundation is investing huge amounts on this community and people in this community, and that is what I get the most joy from.”