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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.


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