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Salud Family Health Centers comes to southern Colorado

by Mary Jo Tesitor
History of Salud: Meeting a need
Salud Family Health Centers, founded in 1970, has a long, rich history. In the late ‘60s, the South Platte River valley of northern Colorado was a land of small communities and truck farms.  In the summer months it was the home and workplace to thousands of migrant farmworkers and their families. In 1969 a large migrant labor camp, located for decades in the valley town of Fort Lupton, was ordered closed by the Colorado Department of Health due to severe environmental health risks, compounding the already urgent health care needs of the farmworker population.
A groundbreaking proposal to provide comprehensive, family-oriented, culturally sensitive, accessible, and multi-disciplinary health care to the farmworker population, including patient transportation and outreach services, was submitted to the U.S. Public Health Service by a Denver-based non-profit organization, the Foundation for Urban Neighborhood Development (FUND).  FUND established an advisory group to advise on operations and to prepare for governance. This group became the board of directors of a non-profit corporation named after the project – Plan de Salud del Valle (Valley Health Plan). After FUND withdrew, as planned, consumers have since been providing program guidance and policy leadership through representative board members.
Salud opened for business on July 1, 1970, in a small apartment in north Fort Lupton. A former onion warehouse across the street was later purchased and converted into a small medical and dental facility, Salud’s home for over a decade. The first year’s budget was $400,990. One of the key objectives was to remove as many barriers to health care as possible and to make access available to all those in need. This resulted in the establishment of a network of clinics which today cover significant parts of six counties and nine communities. Its first mobile unit, known affectionately as “the Bus”, took health care to the many farmworker labor camps in Salud’s growing service area.
Growing and improving
Between 1986 and 2006, Salud opened and improved facilities for women, families, children, and teens in Fort Lupton, Longmont, Brighton, Commerce City, Estes Park, Fort Morgan, Sterling, and Fort Collins, providing clinical services, preventative dental care, and mental health services, both on site and in a state-of-the-art mobile unit with four exam rooms and the capacity to offer preventive dental services. In 2013, all of Salud’s sites were recognized as Patient-Centered Medical Homes by the NCQA (National Committee for Quality Assurance).
Today, Salud operates 13 clinics in nine communities throughout northern Colorado and serves over 74,000 patients annually.  In addition to providing greater access to services through the establishment of clinics and centers, Salud has also expanded its array of services available. Oral health services have been expanded to eight of nine service sites, and behavioral health has been integrated into Salud’s primary care practices. Pharmacy, podiatry, ultrasonography, social work and case management services are now offered at all nine locations. Today, Salud employs over 500 people and operates on an annual budget of almost $50 million.
Heading south
Now, in a cooperative agreement between Salud, a private nonprofit, and the Mt. Carmel Health, Wellness, and Community Center in Trinidad, Salud is bringing to southern Colorado this same care, an integration of physical, dental, and behavioral health, including health education, preventative care, and community outreach.  Building on the established family practice at Mt. Carmel, and under the leadership of Trinidad native John Santistevan, Salud will bring family care to a new level in Las Animas County and the surrounding area.
As a federally qualified health center, Salud community-based health care providers receive funds from the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) Health Center Program to provide primary care services in underserved areas. They must meet a stringent set of requirements, including providing care on a sliding fee scale based on ability to pay, and operating under a governing board that includes patients.  This allows them to provide health care, including mail order pharmacy services, at a discount, based on income.
Santistevan says Salud looks forward to expanding services at the Mt. Carmel site to include legal services and holistic and alternative health care. In response to the growing opioid epidemic, they also hope to continue a plan begun by Mt. Carmel to establish a Suboxone clinic to help those with chronic pain issues wean off of opioids.  A pain management clinic is planned to provide alternative therapies such as acupuncture and massage.
Integrated model of service
The heart and mission of Salud is to provide health care to those in need, with health coverage and access for all. Under the integrated model, health care is provided not as a safety net, but as a primary care, the systematic coordination of general and behavioral healthcare. Integrating mental health, substance abuse, and primary care services produces the best outcomes and proves the most effective approach to caring for people with multiple healthcare needs so often found in the underserved population.
The Mt. Carmel Center has been working for years to be able to provide a broader range of services to the community, and Salud’s reach and qualifications will open a new door to health care for southern Colorado.  Felix M. Lopez, Chief Operating Officer at Mt. Carmel, says it best, “This is the power of collaboration and cooperation.”