It became easier for them to see the doctor with the July 8 opening of the Santa Catalina Health Center in the Catalina Community Resource Center, 3414 E. Golder Ranch Road.

The health center is staffed by the Marana Health Center. MHC doctor Susan Spencer will see patients Mondays and Fridays and the clinic nurse practitioner Deborah Hanks will see patients half days Tuesdays through Thursdays.

Spencer said her time and Hanks' time at the clinic will increase as the patient load increases.

The clinic's opening marks the return of a permanent community physician to the Catalina community since the closing of a clinic run by Family Health Services in 1997.

Salud Para Todos provided a clinic at the center once a week, but itwas geared more toward students and their families attending Coronado Elementary School. That clinic closed last year when the program folded after it lost funding from the county.

"There is a big need in this area for health care and I think we can fulfill that need," Spencer said.

Al Trice, president of the resource center's board, said there are many people in the Catalina area that are not getting any medical care at all.

Though Northwest Medical Center opened an urgent care and outpatient facility in Oro Valley's Rancho Vistoso two years ago, that clinic is not meeting the needs of everyone in the Catalina area.

According to U.S. census data, more than 3,000 people living in Catalina have incomes low enough to qualify for some form of government assistance. Many of those have the state's health insurance AHCCCS.

But Trice said there are also a lot of working families in Catalina that make too much money to qualify for AHCCCS, but their employers don't offer an employee health plan, or they do not make enough money to purchase their own health insurance.

Anna Anderson, an enrollment coordinator with MHC, said to serve this population the Catalina clinic will offer a sliding fee scale for those without insurance and also will participate in the Pima Community Access Plan, which provides discounted health care based on a patient's ability to pay.

Though indigent care will account for a large number of the clinic's patients, Spencer and Trice were quick to point out that the clinic is open to everyone and takes all forms of insurance.

Anderson estimated about half the clinic's patients will have private insurance.

Many will come from Catalina, but Trice expects many will also come from SaddleBrooke, a massive retirement community just north of Catalina across the Pinal County line.

Trice, a SaddleBrooke resident, said there is only one doctor's office in SaddleBrooke, a pulmonologist. That means everyone in the community of more than 4,000 must travel south for health care.

Others traveling south to see a doctor include residents of the communities of Oracle and San Manuel. A large clinic in San Manuel closed in 2000 following the closure of the Magma copper mine in 1999.

The new clinic will be just one of the many services offered to Catalina-area residents at the center. The resource center is home to more than a dozen social service agencies including a food bank, clothing bank, and the Women, Infants, Children nutritional program that is also run by Marana Health Center.

Ora Mae Harn, assistant associate director of the Marana Health Center, said the new Santa Catalina Health Center will be patterned after the Marana Health Center, which started as a once-a-week health clinic in a trailer 40 years ago and is today a large medical center providing a whole host of medical, behavioral and social services.

To make an appointment or for more information, call 825-6763.

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