Sensational grand opening for Benson Family Health Center

Chiricahua pleased by welcome, huge community turnout


By Chris Dabovich

The Benson Family Health Center is a welcomed addition to Benson and the encompassing San Pedro Valley communities.

That much and more was evident Saturday during the grand opening celebration for Chiricahua Community Health Center, Inc., new Benson facility. The center has been treating patients since July 2.

Attendance for the grand opening, a joint venture on behalf of Chiricahua and the Benson/San Pedro Valley Chamber of Commerce, was steady throughout the two-hour event, where visitors toured the facility and checked out informational and vendor booths. There were also health screenings available.

health care options Chiricahua brings to the community as well as the 20,000 square-foot state-of-the-art facility at 335 S. Ocotillo Ave. The Benson Family Health Center opened less than a year after construction started late last summer.

“It’s nice,” said Bill Bernal, a longtime resident and current Benson Hospital Board member. He is particularly pleased the community can now receive pediatric care locally.

That seemed to be the general consensus.

“This is a fantastic opportunity for not only Chiricahua but Benson and San Pedro Valley residents as well,” added Mahlon MacKenzie, the past chamber president and longtime Benson businessman.

The new center is expected to bring 30 jobs and eight physicians once fully staffed and operational, the foundation of which was laid out decades ago, explained Dr. Jonathan Melk, chief executive officer and chief medical officer at Chiricahua.

“The planning work actually started 22 years ago when a group of people got together in Elfrida to begin the clinic there and their vision was that we would provide health care to all people in all communities in Cochise County, and 22 years later, here we are in Benson,” said Melk. “We’re very pleased and excited by the turnout.”

Melk said Saturday’s open house was as much a learning process for Chiricahua as for residents. “We didn’t know what to expect,” he said. “We just really are still learning about the community and we’re learning really what to do next.”

Need brought Chiricahua to Benson, first via its mobile clinic, which continued to expand service. “We felt welcome from the very first time we brought up the idea to community leadership and members. I would say, based on today, the community is really following through.”

“Thank you to the Benson community for welcoming us so warmly. It’s wonderful to come as guests and hopefully soon are more a part of the  community especially as we hire people from Benson,” said Melk.

He also asked the community’s indulgence.

“We’re just getting started. We have a small group of providers; we know we don’t have enough,” Melk explained. “We’re looking; we’re being very choosy on who we hire.”

Pharmacy services are set to start Oct. 1, Melk said, while dental care will come at some point.

“A lot of people are asking about dental. The plan is yes we’re planning dental but we want to see how this goes… we want to learn first, learn what the community’s needs are and then adapt and grow and hire based that,” said Melk. “So I would ask everyone’s patience. Until we have a chance to learn, we have a chance to hire and we want to hire the right people, the right staff, and that’s going to take some time.”

Once fully staffed, the facility will provide adult health care, pediatrics, full-service medical lab, pharmacy, integrated behavioral health and dietetics, insurance enrollment assistance and a WIC office.

The Benson Family Health Center is open Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., Saturday, 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Since its founding, Chiricahua’s presence has grown to be the largest primary care organization in southeastern Arizona. Chiricahua Community Health Centers currently has clinics in Benson, Bisbee, Douglas, Elfrida and Sierra Vista and four mobile medical and dental units that serve rural Cochise County.

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