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MHC Healthcare is a network of 17 health centers throughout the greater Tucson area, including the MHC Healthcare Marana Main Health Center, pictured here at 13395 N. Marana Main St.

Over the summer, the MHC Healthcare’s Oro Valley Pediatrics location earned certification as a gold adolescent-centered health center from the Adolescent Champion Model. This certification, originally developed by the University of Michigan, drives health centers to develop environments and practices to better assist teenage patients. Since Oro Valley Pediatrics’ certification, other MHC locations are using the best practices as part of a broader trend of MHC Healthcare engaging and supporting their community. 

The certification process began in October 2019 and was planned for completion in December 2020, but pandemic delays meant the process stretched into 2021. A core team of MHC pediatricians, behavioral health consultants and medical assistants developed strategies to assist their teen patients, then brought the ideas to the rest of the staff.

“It’s an educational process, but it’s also what I’d call an office transformation process, to make your office a little more adolescent friendly and attend to their needs more,” said Dr. Carl Roberts, MHC medical director of pediatrics. “There was a lot of education, such as studying adolescent brain development, how they think, how their bodies react, what types of infections they’re dealing with, how to talk with them about sexually transmitted diseases, bullying and more. The educational process was huge, but on top of that, we had to go through everything they experienced from the beginning to the end of their visits.”

Oro Valley Pediatrics developed a handout to give to adolescent patients at the beginning of their visits. The handouts were designed to clear up questions about medical processes and encourage teens to ask their doctors questions. MHC staff also gave adolescent patients current Arizona law information so they’d know what they can talk about without their parent’s permission (such as contraception), and made sure the patients had time alone with their providers. They also conducted risk assessments only between patient and provider to discuss activity like drinking, smoking and exercise. 

A total of 90 medical sites in seven states have participated or are currently participating in the Adolescent Champion Model. Oro Valley Pediatrics is the only such location in Pima County. The University of Michigan has found the certification leads to a 27% increase in adolescent patients who received a preventive care visit, a 29% increase in adolescents who received behavioral health services, and a 20% increase in adolescent patients who are up-to-date on HPV vaccinations.

“It really worked well, I couldn’t believe how many seemed more empowered to take their health into their own hands,” Roberts said. “This was a huge process. It didn’t happen overnight. It took a lot of months to put all of these things together to make sure we’d really meet their needs. There were a lot of changes, but when we did our pre- and post-evaluations, it was really gratifying to see that our teens felt like their needs were being addressed better and that they were part of the process.” 

Oro Valley Pediatrics is currently the only MHC location with the certification. But with the best practices being shared among MHC locations, Roberts says other clinics can go through the 18-month process if interested. 

Another important element of the certification process: Oro Valley Pediatrics worked closer with MHC’s behavioral health specialists, which was especially important during pandemic isolations. 

“Their mental health took a nosedive. We saw a lot of anxiety, stress, depression, and we’re still seeing it,” Roberts said. “The kids were not only stressed about what would happen to them and their family, but the social activities they were used to also dropped off. And social activity for teenagers is their life. So from a health standpoint, they did pretty well. But their mental health was affected without a doubt. But it’s good we already had the program in place, because we could help them right away.” 

Beyond Oro Valley Pediatrics, MHC Healthcare is engaging the community in multiple other ways. They are increasing the presence of PREP to prevent HIV, expanding pediatric care to their other locations, and plan to implement a dog program to emotionally support patients. 

In addition, MHC Healthcare recently hosted their Balloon Fest, which included 10 hot air balloons, skydivers, live music, a car show, fireworks and much more. The Balloon Fest was put on by the MHC Healthcare Foundation, a nonprofit that raises funds and provides resources to support MHC Healthcare’s services. 

This year’s Balloon Fest saw an estimated 7,500 attendees. 

“It was a rollicking success,” said MHC Healthcare Foundation director Stephen Stone. “It was well-attended and the public was very excited and supportive of what we did this year. There was some difficulty with supply chains for our food vendors, which limited some of them. But we still had 20 trucks here. Other than that, people were very willing to support our cause, because they understand what we’re raising money for, which is graduate medical training. That makes it a little bit easier to raise funds.” 

Stone says this year’s and previous Balloon Fests have raised nearly $100,000 for MHC, which supports graduate medical education programs for physicians and nurse practitioners. 

The MHC Healthcare Foundation has also hosted a golf tournament, anniversary galas, and works with grants from both private and governmental sources. The foundation is currently working on new events, but Stone says they can’t provide any more information as they are still in the planning stages. 

“We have 17 locations across the community. We serve anyone who comes into the organization, regardless of their ability or inability to pay,” Stone said. “Our outreach times will even help people get signed up for insurance that they didn’t even realize they were eligible for.”

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