There is great pleasure and serenity living here on the Sea of Cortez; and retirement is infinitely more affordable than in the United States. Apart from grandchildren, perhaps the single thing keeping retirees from making Rocky Point their full-time residence is medical care.
The local clinics do a great job of dealing with day-to-day health issues at a surprisingly low fee; but it is still an out-of-pocket expense that Medicare and medi-gap insurance will not cover.
At the suggestion of a friend here, my husband and I moved our medical records from our primary care physician in Lake Havasu City to the Desert Senita Community Health Center in Ajo. It’s just a little over a two-hour drive, the facility is first-class, and the medical and support staff are professional, cheerful and caring.
The clinic provides routine medical exams and treatment. In addition to well-equipped exam rooms, the center has an on-site medical lab, X-ray, pharmacy, physical therapy, dental and vision services, and behavior health care. When a higher level of care is needed, the Center’s referrals office works with facilities in Phoenix and Tucson to get patients the specialized care they need.
Desert Senita is staffed by a year-round physician and a winter-season physician, numerous nurse practitioners and physician’s assistants, two registered nurses, an LPN, nursing assistants and support staff. All of them are dedicated to serving the health needs of their patients.
CEO Jonathan Leonard said, “We put a significant focus on our culture as an organization, making sure that everyone sees themselves as an equal player. We strive to provide quality, local, affordable health care.”
Twenty years ago, the center was designated a federally qualified health center, which requires a Board of Directors, at least 51 percent of whom are community members Leonard said, “The Board is focused on being sure the services we offer are those the community needs. Our business plan is built around serving patients with Medicare.
“We coordinate with as many Medicare Advantage plans (and Medicare supplement providers) as we can. If a patient has a unique plan, we work to get into their network. That is not always to our financial advantage but when we are the only provider within 80 miles, it is important for the patients,” Leonard added.
A significant number of full-time Rocky Point residents with Medicare now have the Ajo facility as their primary care location. Leonard said the Center is definitely open to new patients, whether they are full-time in Mexico or seasonal residents.
Leonard explained that most people who have Medicare and travel do not choose an advantage or managed Medicare plan because the direct plan “gives them greater flexibility for how they seek services. It allows us to serve part-time residents.”
Seasonal residents can request that copies of their medical records be sent to the Health Center to set up a situation with dual primary care providers. “When they return home, their treatment information is shared with their primary care provider at home,” Leonard said.
“With our status as a federally qualified health center, we have to take full responsibility for the quality of care provided. To assure that, we work with your primary care physician back home to share information about treatment,” he explained.
He recommends that patients request copies of their medical records and bring them into the Center in Ajo. When they return home, they can collect any record of treatment at the Center and take it to their other physician’s office.
It is remarkable that this small, former mining town has such quality health services. Leonard explained that the Center was started after the Phelps Dodge mining operation closed down. Two doctors moved into what had been the miners’ dormitory and started providing services to the community.
From there, Phelps Dodge entered into a contract with Tucson Medical Center to provide administrative support for the Center. A consultant group working with TMC told the Phelps Dodge leadership that it would be better served by having the clinic be a federally qualified health center.
“Once that status was gained, it opened us to different grant opportunities.” Leonard said. “The original grant came from Freeport-McMoRan Inc., which has owned the mine for several years. They continue to assure that all services around the mine and the community are taken care of.”
In the last four years, the Center has gone from the most basic facilities and care, to a high-quality health center, and it continues to grow. For more information about the Center go to: https://www.facebook.com/desertsenita/ or to start the process to become a patient, call 520-387-5651.
The Desert Senita Community Health Center in Ajo is the closest facility providing comprehensive health care services to patients on Medicare.
The Health Center has been expanded and upgraded over the last four years to a high quality, comprehensive care facility.
CEO Jonathan Leonard (L) consults with full-time physician Dr. Jeffrey Lavoy in an exam room at the Center.