After more than a decade of discussing, planning and hoping, Edgewood is finally on the cusp of getting a new medical center.

First Choice Community Healthcare is going to be replacing its current 7,000-square-foot clinic in Edgewood with a new 26,400-square-foot facility that can later be expanded to 42,000 square feet.

The new clinic will be adjacent to the Santa Fe County Fire Station, about five miles north of the center of Edgewood. First Choice will lease the site from Santa Fe County and operate the new clinic.

If all goes according to schedule—which is far from certain—the new clinic will be open in January 2019. “To complete the building in 12 months is a very ambitious schedule,” First Choice chief executive officer Bob DeFelice conceded in an interview.

He said First Choice has in hand more than $5 million to design build and equip the new clinic. Santa Fe County plans to name a design and construction team in January. After the design has been created and approved, construction is to begin, sometime next year.

DeFelice said no determination has been made about what will happen to the present clinic building. It was donated to First Choice by the University of New Mexico 14 years ago and moved from western New Mexico in three sections.

The construction of the new facility means more than dispensing about $5.5 million and employing construction workers to create it. Eventually the 40 current employees will increase to 65, additional health services will be offered and medical and family dentistry hours will increase.

Beside the clinic itself, a new wellness center, with a State Department of Health staff and a public health nurse, will open next door. The WIC program will provide diabetes prevention and other health education and fitness resources. WIC is the federal Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children.

DeFelice anticipates the clinic will act as a magnate for ancillary independent specialists, such as opthamalogists. Moreover, DeFelice said, Project ECHO (Extension for Community Healthcare Outcomes) “will allow workers in Edgewood to present cases requiring complex diagnosis and treatment to specialists at UNM.

Edgewood will also become a “teaching health center,” according to DeFelice, with interns training in such fields as family healthcare, internal medicine, community psychiatry and pediatrics. “We’re really interested in teaching,” he added.

The lead agency in building the clinic is Santa Fe County, which is spending $3 million in bond money on the project. Additional funds are coming from state and federal grants and the town of Edgewood. Several years ago, former State Sen. Sue Wilson Beffort secured $242,000 for the project from state capital outlay funds.

The clinic will also be a keystone in the long-delayed development of 640-acre Section 16, the projected “Edgewood Town Center,” where the new clinic will be located. The First Choice website says, “Our project is an integral part of a larger vision for the Edgewood Commons, a central hub of services for people living within a 20-mile radius. The Commons, also called Sec. 16, is a master plan for 640 acres of state trust land, leased to the town of Edgewood for a new municipal center.”

“The project is a cornerstone to stimulate the other components of Section 16,” DeFelice said.

DeFelice has been involved in First Choice from the beginning, helping to create the present clinic in 2003.

Another long-time leader in the drive to get the expanded clinic is Chuck Ring, starting when he was a member of the Town Council and continuing as a member of the First Choice Board of Directors. DeFelice also thanked Edgewood Mayor John Bassett as a key to getting the project under way. The Town of Edgewood contributed $35,000 toward the project.

The town has been instrumental in moving the project forward, De Felice said. “It would not he at this stage without them.”

Actually the project will not get under way until next year. A “groundbreaking ceremony” held recently was, DeFelice explained, a symbolic occasion uniting the various sponsors rather than an actual beginning of construction. There is as yet no approved design for the new building, and sketches on the First Choice website are taken from another First Choice clinic in Belen.

First Choice has about 400 employees in nine facilities in three counties in the Albuquerque metropolitan area. In addition to accepting Medicare, Medicaid and some 80 private insurance programs, it will place clients on a sliding scale depending on income that lets them pay only a fraction of the cost of services. “A typical $155 visit actually costs about $30,” DeFelice said.

DeFelice does not anticipate that First Choice will have any difficulty paying the higher operating costs of the new facility. He said 80 percent of its income derives from patient billings.