Dr. Darlene Melk believes in community medicine
By Bruce Whetten
Published in the Douglas Dispatch January 31, 2018
Dr. Darlene Melk has become one of the most well-known and respected doctors in Douglas. She joined Chiricahua Community Health Centers Inc. in 2010 and adds she quickly fell in love with the work and the mission. “I believe in community medicine,” a statement from her on the CCHCI website reads. “In order to provide the highest quality and most comprehensive care to our patients, we need partners. At CCHCI we have care coordinators, nursing expertise, and administrative support to practice the kind of medicine that everyone deserves. Dr. Melk states that as a daughter of a political refugee from Cuba, she was able to gain an inside view of the barriers her mother experienced when trying to access services for her family.
As head of the CCHCI Pediatric Center on 15th Street she says intervening early in children’s lives ensures their best chance for a healthy future. “I have focused my career on those children with the least access to quality medical care,” she is quoted as saying on the CCHCI website. Dr. Melk says Douglas has its strengths but it also has some things it can definitely improve on. “As a pediatrician in this community… I think that one of our challenges is obesity in children. Unfortunately, a child who starts out overweight or obese, the likelihood of that child to continue on that path to an adult is very high.” One of things Dr. Melk says she tries to do is educate families about healthy nutrition and healthy eating habits especially at a young age. “If we get them started when they are young they are more likely to continue those healthier habits when they are young adults,” she said.
Dr. Melk said she is also trying to promote early literacy and education. “We are in the process of renovating a school into an early childhood learning center of excellence that is going to focus on prevention visits,” she said. “We are hoping to open in March.” At the new facility on 15th Street and A Avenue, Dr. Melk states the current Pediatric. Center of Excellence on 15th Street is not meeting the demands of the community. “We never imagined that we would need more space but we actually do,” she said. “This building will focus on prevention visits or well child care for children from birth to 11-years. Another special group of children that will also be treated there are those with adolescents with chronic conditions… like diabetes, asthma, down syndrome or epilepsy … things that parents may have to see a lot of specialists for … It’s going to be all prevention focused.” Dr. Melk believes that in order make a difference in somebody’s life you have to have a relationship with them and at the Pediatric Center of Excellence patients are encouraged to select a primary care doctor that will see their child 80 percent of the time.
“We have developed patient care teams here,” she said. “Our teams are very aware and we communicate well with each other so we know each other’s patients.” When Dr. Melk initially joined CCHCI she was the third pediatrician to come to Douglas as part of CCHCI and now there is a group of 16 in Cochise County, seven of which are located in Douglas. “It’s basically because of the demand,” she said. “It’s obvious there’s a need; there’s some children that we still are not able to reach but we are getting into communities we never were before.” Dr. Melk says she is starting to see a change now where families are seeing the importance of prevention visits. “When we first came it was very much acute care, they would only come if they were sick,” she said. “Now we have families coming in for their well child checks and they are coming in for dental as well which we have integrated into the building so they can come get their vaccines, blood checks and dental all in one day.”
Dr. Melk stated that healing and health care doesn’t necessarily have to happen at the Pediatric Center of Excellence. “It can happen by going out and talking to the high school students or it can happen by making relationships with other important service entities like the health department or other people who are also involved in the healthcare of this community.” Just recently CCHCI developed a program with the Douglas Unified School District where students interested in the healthcare profession can shadow the staff at CCHCI for 72 hours. In addition to her responsibilities to her patients in Douglas Dr. Melk is the Chief Medical Officer for the Rosa Vera Fund (www.rosaverafund.org) a nonprofit organization which provides medical and social interventions for children in Bolivia. “We want healthy children to become healthy productive, working adults,” she said.