TUCSON - A new Indian Health Service clinic is making it easier for American Indians and indigenous Alaskans to receive more personalized health care and physical therapy.
"I like the way they have it set up - not so much commotion," said Angela Treat, a 45-year-old patient from Tucson's northwest side.
The clinic - called Apedag Ju:ki Ki in the Tohono O'odham language, which translates to Healing Rain House in English - opened on April 8 and is part of the San Xavier Health Center.
Apedag Ju:ki Ki's building was once a dental clinic and then was vacant for years. Instead of demolishing it, health care providers saw it as an opportunity to provide change.
Now decorated with colorful murals depicting the Tohono O'odham and Pascua Yaqui cultures, Apedag Ju:ki Ki is one of 14 pilot sites participating in Innovations in Planned Care.
That's a nationwide initiative meant to improve the way American Indians and indigenous Alaskans receive chronic-disease treatment and prevention.Those two groups are eligible for federally provided health care through the Indian Health Service, which is part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
Apedag Ju:ki Ki and other pilot sites are a way of trying out Innovations in Planned Care in action, without affecting health care services on a large scale.
"You don't want to make massive changes and then have it fail, so we're doing small steps of change," said Capt. Lisa Tonrey, director of professional services for the Tucson Area Indian Health Service's Sells Service Unit.That's the local administrative unit that the San Xavier Health Center is part of.
"This is a great place, because it's an individual location where we can do these small steps and not have to worry about interfering with the rest of the clinic," Tonrey said.
Apedag Ju:ki Ki has six regular employees, including a physical therapist and two family doctors who see patients on alternate days, Mondays through Thursdays.
"What we tried to do is create a family practice, which would be consistent with what you would find in the private sector," said Ron Speakman, nurse supervisor.
That form of medical care is new to the San Xavier Health Center. The Sells Service Unit's doctors rotate between four facilities, including San Xavier.
"What we've found is that it sometimes makes it difficult for patients to follow up with their doctor because they are not here," Speakman said.
That's not the case at the new clinic.
Brittany Saunders, a 19-year-old resident who is about five months pregnant with her first child, used to go to the main San Xavier clinic.
But she switched to the new clinic because her doctor is one of the two working there on alternate days and because it's less crowded with a shorter waiting time.
At the main clinic, she would have to wait one to two hours for a sonogram, but now she has to wait only about 30 minutes, she said.
Another benefit of the new health service clinic is that it gives her and other patients greater flexibility in scheduling appointments.
"We really want to put the emphasis of our care back on the patient and to make things efficient and helpful to them," Speakman said.