Sandoval Signpost
An Independent Monthly Newspaper Serving the Community since 1988

c. Rudi Klimpert

El Pueblo Health Services celebrates 35th anniversary

—El Pueblo Health Services

On Saturday, September 17, El Pueblo Health Services will celebrate its 35th anniversary with a recognition event at the Rail Runner Station on 528 and an open house at the El Pueblo Health Services clinic at 121 Calle del Presidente in Bernalillo. The recognition and keynote event begins at 11:00 a.m., followed by the open house at noon.

El Pueblo Health Services was established in 1976, the same year that Dr. Alan Firestone signed up to work in Sandoval County Bernalillo as a participant in the National Health Services Corp. program. A native of Youngstown, Ohio, Dr. Firestone graduated from Oberlin College and from the UCLA School of Medicine. Dr. Alan Firestone was the first NHSC doctor assigned to El Pueblo Health Services. He had become interested in family practice as an intern in California.

The National Health Service Corps (NHSC), through scholarship and loan repayment programs, helps Health Professional Shortage Areas (HPSAs) in the U.S. get the medical, dental, and mental health providers to meet the growing U.S. need for health care. Since 1972, more than 30,000 clinicians have served in the Corps, expanding access to health care services to people who live in urban and rural areas where health care is scarce.

In 1975/1976, the Bernalillo Development Corporation, whose members included Mayor Hilario Torres, Inez Gabaldon, Al Briley, among others, applied to National Health Services Corp for support. Since NHSC sponsorship did not require collaborative support from the existing partnership with Presbyterian and St. Joseph, the NHSC collaboration lead to the creation of El Pueblo Health Services as it exists today.

Up to that point, a collaborative arrangement between the Presbyterian and St. Joseph’s system had supported a small branch health clinic initially staffed, part time, by Dr. Edgar Roman. Serving Sandoval County was a challenge but also great work experience for new health care providers (MDs, PAs, NPs). Clinicians had to deal with a full range of health services, from prenatal care to emergency care, and surgeries in clinic and hospital settings as well. From administrative to emergency care to back office X-Ray and lab services, EPHS clinician gained considerable first hand rural and Native American health care experience. At one point, of the approximately ten-family/primary care practice doctors at Presbyterian, four worked part time out of the Bernalillo clinic.

For over 25 years, the original EPHS clinic was housed in the same auxiliary municipal office building at 121 Calle Del Presidente in Bernalillo. The clinic shared space with Sandoval County and reservation police services. A late 1940s era X-Ray machine was salvaged from a clinic in Cuba/Jemez area and delivered by a local resident in his pick-up truck. X-ray and labs services were provided out of small make-shift rooms.

An excellent track record of health services led to the construction of a new clinic built in 2001 with funding from the New Mexico Mortgage Finance Authority.

About half of all National Health Services Corporation clinicians work in Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA), supported Health Centers, which deliver preventive and primary care services to patients regardless of their ability to pay. About forty percent of Health Center patients have no health insurance. El Pueblo’s patient base has shifted with the greater percentage of its patient base now comprised of ‘private pay’ patients.

EPHS continues to serve an interestingly evolving mix of patients from descendants of original Hispanic settlers, surrounding Native Americans pueblos, immigrant retirees (military, labs, etc.), neighboring ranchers/farmers, new Latin American immigrants to enduring 1960’s/1970’s era hippies.

With Dr. Firestone as medical director, El Pueblo Health Services has been a major resource and partner for New Mexico organizations such as the UNM School of Medicine. In addition to Dr. Firestone’s role as a UNM School of Medicine faculty member, he has brought in a large number of MD, PA, NP, and MA students as interns, or full time staff, to El Pueblo Health Services over the last thirty-plus years.

El Pueblo Health Services and the original clinic have served as excellent multilingual models for New Mexico rural health care since their initial inception in the early 1970s. With an excellent staff and the support of the Bernalillo and surrounding communities, it will continue to be an invaluable asset to New Mexico and the entire country.

Dr. Firestone contemplates retirement

—Ty Belknap

Another challenge on the horizon of El Pueblo Health is the anticipated retirement of Alan Firestone. Dr. Firestone’s dedication and leadership have been critical to the success of the clinic and the well-being of many of the citizens of Sandoval County and Bernalillo. Dr. Firestone is looking forward to his retirement—perhaps a bit more eagerly than his colleagues and patients. While Firestone has clearly been the driving force behind El Pueblo, he also has interests outside of his life’s mission in medicine.

Firestone never quit playing competitive soccer. Though he is over sixty, he competes in the over-thirty age group tournaments and sometimes goes up against teenagers. Firestone has also played the violin for over thirty years and looks forward to playing ten hours a day at music camp this summer. “I’ve also got a stack of about eighty books that I plan to read when I have time,” he says.

Firestone plans to retire in July of 2013 and is gradually cutting back on his hours at El Pueblo. While he still enjoys practicing medicine, the ever-increasing paperwork is getting to be a frustrating burden. He says that the newly mandated electronic record keeping system keeps him charting in evenings after work for two or three hours. The system simplifies things for administration, but he says that it decreases the productivity of health care providers by up to thirty percent.

Firestone says that he expects clinic staffing to remain in good shape after his retirement. “We have a good support staff and our executive director is really on top of things and tuned in to the needs of the community.”

There is no doubt that Dr. Firestone will be missed and he will probably miss his practice after such a long career. Firestone will continue to teach at UNM one day a week, play soccer and the violin, and is quite confident that he will not be bored.



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