By Richard Dehnert
Community Relations Coordinator
The Verde Valley Guidance Clinic began offering primary care medical services to its seriously mentally ill patients about two and a half years ago as part of a national campaign to improve the general health of persons with mental illness by integrating psychiatric and primary care.
Now, the Clinic is offering primary care services to the general public. According to Verde Valley Guidance Clinic C.E.O Robert Cartia, “We are now a state licensed medical provider with our own primary care staff. We want to be an integrated care provider but we are also aware that the community at large may want to avail themselves of convenient, affordable primary care services.”
Cartia added, “We are expanding the population we serve in our primary care facility, which we call Verde Valley Connections Primary Care, and we accept AHCCCS, Medicare, and private pay. We are also working to accept most private insurance programs.”
Verde Valley Connections Primary Care is located in the new medical building on the main campus of Verde Valley Guidance Clinic at 8 East Cottonwood Street in Cottonwood.
Increasingly, people are finding it difficult to find a primary care physician, particularly in rural areas. There are many reasons for this. More medical students enter more lucrative specialty practices rather than the family practice most people once relied upon for routine medical services.
In many rural areas, the shortage of primary care physicians has become critical. In the Verde Valley, many people have found that some medical practices are not taking new patients. Some have even begun charging annual fees just to keep a person on their panel of patients.
According to the Journal of the American Medical Association, there are 778,000 practicing doctors in the United States. Just under half of them are primary care physicians. Even before health reform, the Association of American Medical Colleges estimated that an additional 45,000 primary care physicians would be needed by 2020 to keep up with demand.
Already, the availability of primary care physicians varies significantly by region and among states: from 0.9 to 1.0 per 1,000 population in many Southern and Western states to between 1.4 and 2.8 per 1,000 in the Northeast.
Under the new health care law, most U.S. residents will be required to have health insurance by 2014.
About 32 million additional people are expected to enroll in some type of health plan. Evidence suggests that insured people consume twice as much medical care as uninsured people, other things being equal. This means that 32 million people will try to double their consumption of medical care. Yet, who will provide that care?
In Arizona, with a population of 6.5 million people, and 4,957 active primary care physicians, that figures out to 76.3 primary care physicians per 100,000 people. In this category, Arizona ranks 40th in the nation.
Overall, Arizona has approximately 208 doctors per 100,000 population, ranking 43rd, and Yavapai County has 192 doctors per 100,000 population.
Physician data are from the AMA Physician Masterfile (December 31, 2008)
So the Verde Valley Guidance Clinic, as it expands its services to populations beyond its traditional behavioral health clientele is doing its part to prepare for the new healthcare law and the growing demand it will create.
Verde Valley Connections Primary Care is staffed by Dr. Curtis Kommer, MD, Jessie Peters, F.N.P., Robert Nordman, P.A., Ashley McCabe, A.N.P., and Michelle Janica, M.A..
The practice is open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday.
The facility also houses a pharmacy for one stop service. For information on primary care at the Verde Valley Guidance Clinic, call 634-2236, ext. 211.