The First Choice medical clinic that has been serving the Edgewood area for 15 years is soon moving into a new 22,000 square foot facility at 7 Municipal Way, west of the fire station.

According to First Choice CEO Robert DeFelice, the project has been underway for about a year and is expected to open to patients Feb. 25 with the grand opening scheduled for April 20. 

DeFelice said, “The grand opening will be after the [legislative] session in Santa Fe because we’d like a lot of our local legislators and commissioners to be present to see what a community can do if they work collaboratively.”

A look at the floor plan reveals 16 medical exam rooms, three behavioral health rooms, eight dental operatory rooms and a conference room. DeFelice mentioned a classroom with a demonstration kitchen for teaching healthy cooking.

DeFelice said weekday hours will be extended and there will be Saturday hours with Sunday hours coming as soon as staffing can be added. That will require increasing the provider staff from six to nine initially, and more as hours increase, he said. There will be three dental providers, two dental hygienists and three behaviorists, he added.

Krista Kelley, contracted to First Choice for the project, said that there will be “85 new jobs with annual salaries of $5.6 million.” 

DeFelice said that in order to attract new staff providers, including doctors, nurses, dentists and dental hygienists, First Choice can help them apply for federal loan repayment because of where the clinic is located.

Kelley said that the state Department of Health will have offices there and that “they would focus primarily on community education and prevention.”

“One of the key things that came up at community meetings was that the community wanted to have space to have meetings,” Kelley said, adding, “so there will be a lot more access.” 

She also said that there will also be a pharmacy located within the facility.

Asked about imaging capabilities, DeFelice said that there will be dental X-rays but that there will not be medical X-rays, at least at first. He said that they are looking at a possible portable X-ray unit.

There will be “integrated behavioral health” at the new clinic, DeFelice said. He spoke of re-purposing the old facility for behavioral health as a “living room model,” where peer counselors would be available “when someone’s having a crisis in the evening or on the weekend,” a place where someone can “drop in, relax and unload,” he said.

Bernalillo County will partner with Santa Fe County to remodel the old facility to create the new “living room,” which will meet a “tremendous need” and create jobs in the community, DeFelice said.

DeFelice said he sees the new clinic as a stimulus to economic growth and more comprehensive community wellness.

“We know that if you’re talking about well communities and healthy communities, you have to address a number of factors, not just access to high quality health care services. You have to address economic factors, educational factor, safety factors, environmental factors, housing factors,” DeFelice explained. “It’s what they call social determinants of health.”

“So, we thought if we can get this center built, provide more access to care, expand our scope of practice, we can begin to influence businesses to move their facilities there because now their employees will have access to high quality health care,” he said.

DeFelice said he then enlisted the help of Kelley to initiate a capital campaign to make this happen. 

Kelley said she spoke with Tony Flores, Deputy Santa Fe County Manager. She said they went before the county commissioners to seek a bond issue which was later approved by voters. That provided $3 million for the building project, she said. 

DeFelice said they also secured $1 million through the federal government’s Health Resource Service Administration and used that money to leverage funding from the state.

“We went to the Department of Health and talked to them specifically in the WIC [Women, Infants & Children] program, and they agreed and secured $1 million through USDA [United States Department of Agriculture],” DeFelice explained. “The WIC program is a USDA program managed by the state,” he added.

The WIC program office will be relocated from Moriarty to the new facility, he said.

Robert DeFelice

DeFelice continued, “So we got it up to five million dollars and thought, we can build this facility for five million because we’re not buying the land.” 

“All this money was moved over to the County of Santa Fe because they’re the owners of the building with the agreement that they would lease it back to us at fair market value minus the cost of services to the community. So, we can probably break even,” DeFelice said.

He said the 5-acre site is owned by the state so “We went to the State of New Mexico land office and secured a land lease for about $10,000 a year.”

DeFelice said that funding for equipment and furnishings inside the new facility was made possible by the USDA’s Rural Economic Development Loan and Grant program; $950,000 came through the Central New Mexico Electric Co-op which acted as an intermediary for the USDA, he explained. Those funds had been held up by the federal government shutdown, he said.

DeFelice explained that Santa Fe County decided to go with a build-design approach where you hire a team: “You hire a construction firm and they have an architectural partner. It’s great because as the design is being built, the construction people have input, so there’s some real cost savings.”

“It’s a wood frame building,” DeFelice said. Kelley added, “They used high efficiency lighting, high efficiency HVAC system which they have been getting it checked by an air duct cleaning San Antonio tx company.”

Future plans, DeFelice said, include a separate senior center and wellness center which would include contracted physical therapy services and a “state of the art fitness center” available to community.

“We see it as a multi-generational facility to integrate different populations,” Kelley said, adding, “and have them do different activities together. I think we’ll be successful at getting that funded very soon.”

Edgewood town councilor and First Choice board member Linda Holle said, “I see this as a wonderful asset to the community. They take any patients and any insurance. They serve their patients with a sliding scale.”

She added, “We’re building a healthcare community here that is in our neighborhood. People aren’t going to have to travel to Albuquerque. We have full services here with medical, dental and behavioral health services.”

Holle also said there are walking trails that start by the new clinic for everyone to use.

The North Central Regional Transit District (NCRTD), where Holle is also a board member, is considering a request by her to provide “on demand” transportation for patients traveling to the new clinic which would cost $1 per one-way trip, she said, adding, “I see this clinic as drawing not only from Edgewood, but patients from the east side of Bernalillo County, Moriarty, Stanley and Estancia.”

To reach First Choice in Edgewood, call 505-281-3406 or visit fcch.com/edgewood to learn more.

Leota Harriman
Leota Harriman

Leota started working for The Independent in 2006, working her way up through the ranks. An employee buyout in 2010 led to her ownership of the newspaper. Leota has served on the board of the N.M. Press Association, and is currently its First Vice President. She is passionate about health and wellness, especially mental health, and loves making art. She can be reached at news.ind.editor@gmail.com.