Health care options expand in Flagstaff

By Noel Lyn Smith
Navajo Times

FLAGSTAFF, Dec. 16, 2010

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(Times photo - Leigh T. Jimmie)

The doors are now open for Native Americans living in or near Flagstaff with non-emergency services at Sacred Peaks Health Center.

With 13 examination rooms, the Sacred Peaks Health Center is providing health care services to the Native American population here.

Sacred Peaks was established to better serve Natives of all ages who live in or near the city by providing direct access to non-emergency primary care for beneficiaries.

The 10,000-square-foot clinic provides services by appointment but same-day appointments can be scheduled if slots are available.

There is an onsite pharmacy, laboratory, and radiology unit in addition to specialized services like dermatology, gynecology, occupational therapy, orthopedics and physical therapy.

The clinic is located at 3480 E. Route 66 in the Parks Santa Fe Shopping Center. It is open Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Michael LaPlante is the interim clinic director. He is also the only board-certified clinical electrophysiologist in the Indian Health Service, meaning the Flagstaff clinic has a skilled diagnostician for people with heart problems.

"We're providing high quality service and we're growing the scope of services that we are providing," LaPlante said. "We are on strong footing for a real healthy future and it fills a big hole in patient accessibility in the Flagstaff area."

Sacred Peaks opened in March and is an extension of the Tuba City Regional Health Care Corp., which operates the Tuba City hospital.

The clinic is open to anyone but priority is given to the Native population of Flagstaff, TCRHCC spokeswoman Aurelia Yazzie said. If a non-Native were to receive medical service, they could use their health insurance or pay out of their pocket.

In November, more than 1,000 patients visited the Sacred Peaks clinic along with 2,000 visits to the pharmacy to fill prescriptions issued at other health care facilities in town.

The clinic also administers flu shots.

There are 30 employees working at Sacred Peaks, including four full-time doctors. Each doctor oversees the clinical departments and there are no physician assistants or nurse practitioners on staff.

Other doctors divide their time between Sacred Peaks and the Tuba City facility.

"We have a close relationship with Tuba City as our mother ship," LaPlante said. "We share many of the staff and services that we provide in Tuba."

Radiology services include diagnostic X-rays and ultrasound.

Also located in the department is a device that screens for glaucoma and also detects vision problems in people with diabetes.

Photographs of the patient's eye are transmitted to the National IHS-JVN Reading Center in Phoenix, where specialists review the images and report back to the primary care physician.

"That lets us screen for the types of diseases that diabetics can get in their eyes," LaPlante said.

The laboratory offers "point of care" testing, LaPlante said, which provides physicians with immediate results to help direct patient care.

Some of the common tests done in the Sacred Peaks laboratory include pregnancy, hemoglobin, blood sugar level, influenza, strep throat, urine infections and urine chemical imbalances.

If the clinic lab cannot perform a needed test, the specimen is taken via courier service to the laboratory at TCRHCC.

There is a special procedure room for services such as putting a cast on a broken limb, gynecological procedures, and orthopedics injections.

For medical services not provided at Sacred Peaks, patients can receive service at the family health center operated by Native Americans for Community Action Inc. at 1500 E. Cedar Ave., Suite 26 in Flagstaff.

"The challenge we have here is that we already need more staff to meet the demand," LaPlante said. "As far as overall patient care and considerations we are also actively collaborating with NACA."

Sacred Peaks and NACA have formed a partnership to provide services like diabetic education and mental health care.

Karoline Mariano is a case manager at Sacred Peaks. She makes patient referrals to TCRHCC, Flagstaff Medical Center and medical facilities in Phoenix, along with working with IHS area contract health services.

Mariano also does follow ups for women's health and nursing duties as needed in the clinic.

"I do quite a bit of things to support the medical assistants, the physicians and any other department here if there is a need for collecting information or managing patients," Mariano said.

Future plans for Sacred Peaks include adding obstetrics and optometry units, an outpatient surgery clinic, and other services offered at TCRHCC.

Sacred Peaks is also looking to collaborate with Northern Arizona University to register Native American students, which would facilitate future visits since the student would already be in the clinic's system, Yazzie said.

More than 1,200 Native American students representing 90 tribes attend NAU.

"That's one of our goals, to try to hit the campus," Yazzie said.

In the first quarter of 2011, the medical records department will transition from paper charts to electronic health records by using an in-house system called ALERT.

"And with that we are hoping the reams and reams of paper will end," LaPlante joked.

ALERT is a comprehensive program that will allow all documentations to be completed electronically and would make a patient's records accessible to staff at Sacred Peaks and TCRHCC.

"It will be the same chart here as it is in Tuba, which will help with the continuity of patient care," LaPlante said.

Information: 928-863-7333.

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