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Health care comes to the Southeast 

DiverseCity

Francis Wood remembers a time when accessing a health care facility near her neighborhood was a distant dream. She’s lived in the city’s Southeast for 18 years, and for most of that time, the area has been ignored by medical providers.

Living far from a doctor is hard enough for a healthy person. But recently, Wood became the primary caretaker and guardian for her 10-year-old 
grandson, who has a long list of medical needs, some of which may require immediate medical attention.

But the child didn’t have a primary care doctor when she began caring for him. Wood says she and her son-in-law, who is also helping to raise the boy, were relieved and grateful when Joyce Salazar of RISE, the nonprofit coalition working to improve life in the Southeast, suggested they check out a nearby clinic.

It turns out, Value Care Health Clinic was very nearby, on South Academy Boulevard. And the staff was ready to help her with her unique needs.

“When we first got my grandson,” Wood says, “we knew nothing about his shot records… We had no history in any way, shape or form. So, when we called Value Care we [gave] his Medicaid number and they got us right in [on a Saturday].”

Accessible, equitable health care in one’s neighborhood is a big deal, and could literally mean the difference between life and death. The 2018-2022 El Paso County Community Health Improvement Plan states, “Life expectancy is impacted by factors that can be controlled, including access to quality clinical care, individual choices and behaviors, and social determinants of health, as well as those that are not controllable, such as genetics.”

The report goes on to say, “The difference in life expectancy is as low as 69.2 years and as high as 85.4 years, based on neighborhood.”

Before Value Care opened in late 2014, the closest medical facility to Wood was an urgent care clinic, which isn’t set up to handle routine care. Wood’s story is just one of many in the Southeast, which finally appears to be on the radar of health care providers.
Matthews-Vu Medical Group recently acquired Value Care Health Clinic and plans to make even more primary and specialty care available to the 80,000 residents of the Southeast. The current clinic serves about 4,500, the vast majority of whom are covered by Medicaid.

Connie Hetzel, a certified family nurse practitioner at Value Care, says, “At first, nothing will change but our name, and for right now we are keeping our hours the same.”

In addition to life expectancy, accessible health care improves quality of life. The county’s report notes that “collaboration across sectors and engagement of key stakeholders is necessary to achieve common health goals and improve the health of all people.”

So it’s great that the Southeast is finally getting some health care providers. But since competition usually leads to lower prices and better care, it could use more. Last month, the largest Medicaid provider in the region, the nonprofit Peak Vista Community Health Centers, announced they too are establishing a clinic in the 80916 ZIP code.

Hetzel couldn’t have a better attitude about the neighborhood getting a second clinic. She says patients should be able to choose a clinic where they feel most comfortable. “The more the better,” she says. “... It [additional medical providers] is absolutely needed in the Southeast.”

Wood doesn’t just need to worry about her grandson. She has lupus. And for her own needs, she goes to Peak Vista, which accepts her Medicaid and Medicare coverage.

“It’s quick, convenient and right here up the street [via car],” she says. 
“I don’t have to drive all the way up north to go to a doctor.”

Health care should be quick, convenient and accessible for all people. It’s wonderful to see that the Southeast is finally seeing the quality and quantity of its options improve.

Sponsored: Pikes Peak Community College supports conversations about diversity. To learn more, go to ppcc.edu/diversity.

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