I feel like First Choice Community Healthcare Clinic is a quiet hidden gem in that lots of folks just don’t even know the range of services we offer. Since we are a not-for-profit service, we don’t have an advertising budget like many for-profit medical offices might. As a result, many people in the community don’t know that they can access state-certified eligibility determiners that can assist them for free with Medicaid, Medicare, the national healthcare insurance exchange program and a number of other state eligibility-based programs such as EBT. Since our state-certified determiners aren’t connected with any insurance provider or hospital, citizens can rest assured they are not being influenced unduly in any particular insurance company’s direction.

Any for-profit medical office can offer different pricing for the same services based upon which insurance company a patient has. That is all but required by the insurance companies from the doctor’s office. They call these “discounts” for the insurance companies. So what is billed for $10 for one person, costs $15 for another. Also, the Docs can agree to only order three P.T. sessions for one person’s care covered by insurance Company A but can order five P.T. sessions for the next patient with a different insurance Company B.

Federally qualified healthcare clinics such as First Choice can’t enter into such agreements to limit services ordered for you based on who insures you, not what you need. Therefore, some insurance companies demanding this will not contract with First Choice. But for-profit medical offices that are beholding to this practice can make up costs easily if they choose to run up a medical bill doing multiple diagnostics because the diagnostic test will be paid by insurances as long as a prior-authorization isn’t required. So a patient might receive an in-office service such as an ultrasound, EKG, oxygen saturation level, etc. whether you really need it or not. It can be billed.

Both sides of this profit-motivated method that uses the patient as a pawn have become the norm in America. That is an unfortunate potential that exists where profit is a motivation. A not-for-profit such a First Choice has no such motivation since we can’t have but one price for every item, for every person that gets it. That ends that game. Any “profit” from federally qualified health care clinic is plowed back into the community by increasing patient access and to create more services to patients. No profit goes to shareholders, boards of directors or doctor-owners. We try to minimize the costs to our patients, be responsible about why we are ordering tests and diagnostics and then give our patients options if they don’t want an expensive test. First Choice even offers payment plans as low as $5 a month for uninsured patients. Even if a patient is insured but has a high deductible like so many of the New Mexico Health Exchange insurances do, we can give patients a monthly payment plan and use an income-based sliding scale to reduce their costs before their deductible is ever reached. That way, we keep people from landing in the E.R. or admitted to the hospital, which costs every community. This also helps community members to really take care of their health because they pay very modest amounts monthly, based on the patient’s income, rather than wait until they are so sick they go to an E.R. for flu or worse wait until they are very sick and get admitted.

First Choice has met requirements to get patients signed up into the SunRX Drug Program, another national program where the drug pricing is based upon Uncle Sam’s acquisition price for drugs rather than retail pricing. Our local Smith’s pharmacy has partnered in the SunRX national program. We are here to help our community towards health, not for profit.

All our employees including the doctors make less than most for-profits offer for the same licensures yet we require meeting even more stringent credentialing standards to work for First Choice.

We offer every single employee full healthcare, paid leave, holiday, sick leave and education benefits, from the doctors to every single clerk because it is the right thing to do. We want to provide solid jobs in healthcare for our community. First Choice doesn’t stop with employees. We offer free health education and motivational phone calls to our patients, we personally set-up motivation sessions, reviews or education with individual patients for free—as well as other techniques for adults who face challenges such as diabetes, hypertension and obesity.

One can see our Nurse for free just to check on your blood pressure or your health situation. This is free to patients as part of our Patient Centered Medical Home (Level II) Rating which has been recognized nationally and accredited. Our patient care facilitator, Ellie is trained to assist patients with chronic illness, and is there for our patients to access as often as they need or want at no charge.

First Choice provides a counselor at the clinic so if a patient or their provider feels there is a component in their healthcare that could be improved through counseling a one-on-one can occur during the doctor appointment. We provide an ECHO (University of NM Hospital Outreach Program) trained Hepatitis C physician specialist and nurse specialist for people going through Hepatitis C treatment, at no additional cost. We have dentists and dental hygienists as well as cradle-to-grave medical practitioners and behavioral health counselors.

Many of our providers and staff are altruistic by nature, having served in such places as the Hopi Reservation, Doctors Without Borders and the Peace Corps. They also live here locally, so they are in tune with our community. We willingly take on students. Many live locally and would otherwise travel all the way to town for externships. Our students wear clearly labeled IDs so you know who they are and ask permission to observe in your care and as such, you can impact the next generation of this country’s caregivers or say “No, not today.” The community gets to influence the formation of new providers of healthcare this way. It takes some more effort on our provider’s part but you deserve the right to get these new people trained right to care for you the way they should. There is also the opportunity for your college-bound kids to extern near home and not have to drive all the way to Albuquerque for everything. Yes, First Choice is a “Hidden Gem” and the best-kept secret the whole Community should know about.

Linda Finkelstein

Health Center Manager

First Choice Community Healthcare Clinic

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.