The Chiracahua Mountains dominate the horizon over a vista of scrub grass and cactus in Cochise County, Arizona, an area equivalent to the combined size of Connecticut and Rhode Island. In this rural borderland, families with children had few options for pediatric care.
AN IDEA BORN IN DISASTER
Jonathan Melk, a young doctor in Phoenix, was just considering a move to become the sole pediatrician for the Chiracahua Community Health Center, when Hurricane Katrina hit hard in 2005. He joined a caravan of Children’s Health Fund mobile clinics heading to New Orleans, and formulated a plan as he worked alongside health care professionals from across the National Network who travelled to Louisiana to provide emergency assistance.
“I decided to go to Chiricahua and petition Children’s Health Fund to take us on as a new program site,” remembers Dr. Melk. “I wanted to build a true medical home for children in a place that had never seen anything like one before.”
SURROUNDED BY NEED
The region experiences myriad challenges, including poverty, lack of specialty care, absence of public transportation, early school failure, teen pregnancy, a high percentage of fractured families, and severely strained educational and other public resources. A shortage of mental health services complicates the provision of comprehensive health care.
The needs here could not be greater. Many children have special health care needs and diagnoses that include cerebral palsy, mental retardation, autism spectrum disorder, genetic syndromes, seizure disorders, traumatic injuries and speech/developmental disorders.
WHAT THE KIDS DESERVE
Chiricahua Community Health Center became the partner for Children’s Health Fund’s 22nd program. Home base for the mobile clinic, which travels out into the desert bringing health care to remote villages and migrant worker camps, is a new Pediatric Center of Excellence that Dr. Melk and his adopted community have built in record time over the past few years.
Now the children of Chiricahua have first-class pediatric services. “It’s what they deserve,” says Dr. Melk. “It’s what all children deserve.”