Program Is A Win-Win For Doctors & Rural Areas

COMMERCE CITY (CBS4) – Finding health care in some areas of Colorado can be a real challenge. With big school loans to repay, many new doctors can’t afford to work at low-income clinics or in rural areas. But sometimes taking a job in a needy community can pay off.

The community gets a commitment from a family doctor or nurse or dentist or other primary care health professionals. The incentive is thousands of dollars to help pay off looming student loans.

Myra Chavez had a cough and trouble breathing. She’s one of about 110 patients they’ll see any given day at the Salud Family Health Center in Commerce City. Salud serves the needy and under-insured.

“Oh no, there’s never a dull moment,” Dr. Elisa Melendez with the Salud Family Health Centers said.

Melendez grew up in Commerce City. As one of 11 children,  attending medical school was a struggle.

“I put up a sign in the classroom and said, ‘Hey, we’re selling burritos on Friday if you want to buy them.’ So that was how my family contributed,” Melendez said.

Melendez graduated $200,000 in debt. She faced 15 years of payments. But she discovered a way to get help through a program now called the Colorado Health Service Corps.

“The grant was for $150,000,” she said.

Melendez had to commit to working at the non-profit clinic for 3 years.

“I always said I wanted to come back to where I started.”

Melendez is one of 49 doctors who’ve benefitted from the state loan repayment program. Now it’s open to nurses, physicians assistants and more to better help communities lacking in health care.

“This provides an opportunity for them to recruit and even retain those health care professionals,” Kelly Dunkin with the Colorado Health Foundation said.

For Melendez it’s a financial cure and a way to come home. It’s a shot in the arm for the neighborhood and peace of mind for patients.

The Colorado Health Service Corps is a state government program. The majority of the grant money comes from the Colorado Health Foundation. Any health care professional willing to work in a rural or low-income area in Colorado can qualify.

  • Anonymous

    While I believe the intentions of this article are good, there is also another side to Salud in Commerce City. I went to Salud because my regular doctor was $75 per visit with no insurance. Being on unemployment, I was able to go to Salud for $7 per visit and it was a blessing. Or so I thought. I have had Osteoarthritis in my neck for decades and fought for decades to get something for the pain. My regular doctor had finally prescribed Percocept 10/325 for me. When I saw my doctor at Salud I asked him if we could lower that dose to 7.5/325 as 10 was just a little to much. My doctor refused, only saying that Salud would not allow him to prescribe Percocept. I had no problem with that, I just needed something on par with that to help with the pain. Instead, this doctor put me on Morphine. Not knowing much about pain killers I said okay and went home. This was the biggest nightmare of my life. After two weeks and over two dozen side effects, one of them more painfull than I can describe, I attempted to reach my doctor or someone at Salud to help me wean off the Morphine. I had read that it was extremely dangerous (possibly lethal) to stop taking it cold turkey. I left one message that day. The next day, one side effect was so bad I lost all feeling in my legs and feet. I called Salud twice that day in a panic. Not only was the medical assistant aware of what was going on, but messages were left for my doctor and also another doctor to call me in reference to what I told them was an emergency. That was five days ago and I still have not heard a word from Salud. I spent four days in a very dangerous withdrawl which I just came out of today. I have an appointement with this clinic coming up in the next few days and I plan to let them have it. Beware of low cost health care. From my experience, you get what you pay for. This clinic could care less about their patients!

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