Picture Rocks is not the best place to have a medical emergency.
Getting to a Tucson hospital from this rural community southwest of Marana involves driving across the sprawling Saguaro National Park and up through the Tucson Mountains.
The prospects for the infirm are about to get better, though, thanks to the donation of an almost, but not quite, unusable patch of land that Marana Unified School District owns.
The district's governing board voted at its Oct. 28 meeting to lease a half-acre portion of a plot of land containing a leach field for $1 a year for five years to Marana Health Center so the center can put a satellite office there.
A leach field leaches effluent from a septic tank into the soil beneath the ground surface. The leased half-acre is not in the leach field.
"There's nothing we could put out there that would be of any use to us," said Richard Lesko, the school district's superintendent. "It's just kind of ugly right now, and this would be a great way to make lemonade out of lemons."
The school district owns a five-acre parcel of land between Desert Winds Elementary and Picture Rocks Intermediate schools that is mostly a leach field.
The usable portion of the land is small and too far from either school to accommodate modular buildings.
A spot near Rudasill Road, though, is suitable for a small modular medical office. With direct road access, the office won't interfere with the operations of either school, Lesko said.
"If it allowed access to a campus we would have security concerns," he said.
The office will offer all the medical services that Marana Health Center offers, including access to its specialists in geriatrics, oncology and diabetes, said Ora Mae Harn, assistant executive director of Marana Health Center.
One family practice physician and one nurse will probably comprise the office's entire staff, at least at the beginning, Harn said. Patients can visit the office with any health concern, and will be referred to specialists when necessary.
The office, scheduled to open in February, is the health center's second satellite office. The other is in Catalina.
The office will be open 40 hours a week, and evening hours are planned for one day a week. Marana Health Center also offers a doctor-on-call service 24 hours a day.
Although the office is on school property, it will serve the general public. Costs of medical care will be on a sliding scale according to patients' ability to pay, with free care for some.
Funding for the new office comes from three federal grants and from a $25,000 gift of Pima County contingency funds to prepare the building's site and to remodel the modular building.
Normally, the county would have used grant money to assist the health center, said Sharon Bronson, chairwoman of the county's Board of Supervisors. But by the time the federal grant came through, the county's grant money had already been awarded for the year.
Marana Unified School District, along with leasing a half-acre of land for a pittance, is letting the medical office use its septic system. Also, the district's director of maintenance is offering technical advice about connecting utilities, sidewalks and fencing.
The upcoming medical office is only the latest example in a long history of partnering between Marana Health Center and the school district.
Harn drove a school bus for the Marana Unified School District before becoming involved with the health center in the mid-1960s.
"I have a great concern for the school and children, and I'm very concerned about my community, and I've known a lot of people at the school for years and years," Harn said. "This was a natural relationship."
About a decade ago, the health center opened clinics at Marana High School and Marana Middle School to provide free medical services for students referred to them from the nurse's office. Since many Marana parents commuted to work and were far from home during the day, Harn wanted their children to have a way to get medical care at school, where they already were.
"If a parent leaves the Marana area and has to drive into Tucson, they have to leave early and don't get home until later in the afternoon," Harn said. "It's pretty difficult to leave work to come out and pick up a child."
Today, the two school clinics, each open one day a week, serve about 20 students each week, she said.
The health center also has a clinic at Coronado K-8 School and at two schools in the Tucson Unified School District.
When the health center received a federal grant for a new satellite office, Harn did not hesitate before asking Marana Unified School District for help.
"She got the grant and knew she was going to build somewhere," Lesko said. "It needed to be in the Picture Rocks area, and she was looking for a place to put it."
Though Marana Health Center's office will provide no extra services to students, it's nice to know a physician is in the vicinity, Lesko said.
A parent picking up a sick child from school won't have to drive far to take the child to a doctor. And if a parent gives permission, a child can see a doctor quickly in the case of a schoolyard accident.
"In case of an emergency, it's comforting to know it's close," Lesko said.