Op Ed- Happy to be in the Community
In the mid-1990s, a small group of determined residents of the Sulphur Springs Valley recognized serious challenges facing family, friends and neighbors in accessing primary care. Lack of health insurance, reliable transportation, access to medications, as well as the necessary family resources, was resulting in unnecessary suffering.
Their resulting idea was to begin a health clinic in the community of Elfrida.This desire became reality Aug.26, 1996, when a makeshift clinic opened in the small metal community center just off Highway 191. They named the tiny, new, not-for-profit organization “Chiricahua Community Health Center, Inc.” Shortly after, these founders developed a strategic plan that boldly set forth a plan to provide accessible, quality primary to all people of Cochise County, regardless of ability to pay. This strategic plan included the community of Benson.
However ambitious or unlikely the plan seemed at that time, Chiricahua has since not only survived the many challenges it has faced, but has thrived, spreading services to additional communities via both ‘fixed site’ clinics and our hallmark mobile clinics. Douglas, Bisbee and Sierra Vista operations all grew significantly, and mobiles have served the Willcox area for years. There was a missing community from Chiricahua’s operations map, however, and we thus became increasingly interested in the Benson community at the beginning 2015. Federal grant money for Federally Qualified Health Centers like Chiricahua was to be released, and we decided to give it a try and write for the highly competitive grant.
Since that time, Chiricahua has strategized to bring increased primary care to Benson. Finding community partners was not difficult. Progressive Healthcare Group graciously hosted Chiricahua’s fully-equipped mobile medical clinic. Benson Hospital partnered immediately with Chiricahua to ensure seamless secondary care for all Chiricahua patients regardless of ability to pay. Other community organizations immediately stepped up to both refer and receive Chiricahua patients in need of services. The city government has been supportive every step of the way.
Our take home message during our mobile work was that Benson needed a significant building to provide additional medical services. Our mobile team simply could not meet the demand. After writing and not receiving yet another federal grant, our board and leadership decided that, after two decades of planning, it was time to proceed regardless. After securing the financing partnership of Vast Real Estate Solutions out of Tucson, Chiricahua’s Benson Family Health Center began construction in the fall of 2017 and was completed sufficient to occupy in June 2018. True to our nature of soft openings, services quietly began on July 2, 2018.
Chiricahua is only beginning our work in the Benson Family Health Center. Not only is the landscaping and other details not yet complete, but we are only beginning to learn what the needs of the community really are. It is already clear we need to recruit and fortify our adult medical program by finding additional highly-qualified adult medicine providers and support staff. Many people are asking about dental services, and our understanding of the need for pediatrics evolve a little every day. We ask for the community’s patience during this time of learning and further recruitment. Be assured that we are in this for the years to come, and we will seek to please. We are tremendously proud to now be a permanent member of the Benson community.
Jonathan Melk MD is Chief Executive Officer and Chief Medical Officer at
Chiricahua Community Health Centers, Inc.