TIETON – The stethoscope and white coat came out as Jennifer González-Broadt picked up her training equipment. It was time to switch to Zumba class.
González-Broadt, Assistant Physician at Community Health of Central Washington’s Highland Clinic, gives free classes at 5:15 p.m. every Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday on the clinic’s “front porch” at 915 Wisconsin Ave. About a dozen women and girls mirrored her movements on the building’s wooden deck as the dance music pulsed through the air at 95 degrees.
“It’s an exercise class for those who want to come, and they don’t have to be my patients,” said González-Broadt, a native of Texas who prefers to be called Jenna.
She joined the staff of the Highland Clinic in April as the first full-time medical provider, more than a year after the clinic opened which ended a decades-long lack of a primary care provider in and around this growing town in the Upper Valley of around 1,300 inhabitants.
Community Health, which runs the Central Washington Family Medicine Clinic and Residency Program, has long wanted to open a clinic in the Tieton area. In August 2015, the organization received a grant of $ 1,057,452 to develop a new clinic site in the Yakima Valley.
The grant, which is part of the Affordable Care Act, was intended to expand primary care services to new patients and would continue if federal dollars kept coming in, officials said at the time.
Having a full-time health care provider in town is crucial in reaching more people, especially the uninsured and underinsured. More services mean more options for those who don’t want to drive to Yakima – and those who can’t get to Yakima due to limited transportation or limited time away from work.
It also means another supplier for those in Yakima and beyond. González-Broadt is always accepting new patients. Considering the continuing shortage of medical providers in the Yakima Valley, this may be worth the trip.
By building his patient base, González-Broadt hopes to reach those who haven’t seen the doctor for years, if not decades, out of fear – of doctors, of the diagnosis, of the pills, of the cost. One way to connect with these potential patients is to leave the office and be part of the community, and others have taken notice.
“You make your contacts however you can, whether it’s exercise or the walk to the corner store,” González-Broadt said.
She and her family moved to Yakima Valley amid one of the coldest and snowiest winters in recent memory.
“I moved here in a Texas snowstorm with three dogs, two cats and three children,” González-Broadt said of his family’s arrival around Christmas. “And I did my training at (Central Washington Family Medicine) until April.”
A native of Harlingen, González-Broadt, 44, holds a bachelor’s degree in exercise science from the University of Texas at Brownsville and a master’s degree in medical assistant studies from the University of Texas-Pan American.
Her husband, Wayne Broadt, a physiotherapist, lived in Everett for a little while, she said. While in Texas, the family would return to the Pacific Northwest for vacation, drawn to the mountains. González-Broadt learned of the Highland Clinic opening last fall.
“I was very drawn to this job,” said González-Broadt. “I couldn’t ask for a more perfect situation.”
At the time, Dr. Maria Verduzco, site manager at Central Washington Family Medicine, was also the medical site manager and chief medical officer of the Highland Clinic, which opened on December 2, 2015.
“It took us all this time to find a supplier. Until Jenna arrived, we were stealing from Peter to pay Paul. We were stealing providers from the Yakima clinic, said Dr Mike Maples, CEO of Community Health of Central Washington. “(Verduzco) and Dr (Katina) Rue and one of our (medical assistants) from there were on rotation so we could maintain about 20 clinic hours per week. “
The push for a clinic in the Tieton area came even earlier, decades after Dr. Clark Thompson retired from his practice in Cowiche.
“He closed that clinic and it was operated for a brief time by (the Yakima Valley Farm Workers Clinic),” Maples said. “Beyond this period, there was no supplier. That was over 30 years ago. “
About eight years ago, the community asked an Agriculture Department consultant to come to Tieton, Maples said. The consultant spent most of the winter holding vision meetings for the community.
One of Central Washington’s resident doctors was living in Tieton at the time and encouraged Maples to join the discussion.
“It was a very high priority that grew out of this planning discussion,” Maples said of a clinic with a full-time medical provider.
González-Broadt’s patients range from babies to 90s, from migrant workers to transplanted West Side residents who live in converted lofts near the Mighty Tieton Warehouse.
His experience ranges from working in a family practice to assisted living facilities. She especially enjoyed working with these residents, she said.
“I was that person who came to see them once a week. Why? Because you can really change people’s lives, ”said González-Broadt.
The clinic staff, consisting of seven people, includes an outreach worker and a medical assistant.
“My office manager grew up here,” she said of Mireya Galvez, a graduate nurse from nearby Highland High School in Cowiche.
González-Broadt estimated that at least 75 percent of his patients – perhaps more – are Mexican-Americans who live in and around Tieton for jobs in fruit packing factories and orchards.
“I myself was born and raised poor. I’m really trying to connect at that level, ”she said.
In particular, she hopes to reach those who are facing medical issues that “have gone undiagnosed for a long time” due to fear of doctors, fear of diagnosis or other issues, she said.
“Much of our culture is enveloped in this ‘pills are bad’ attitude,” added González-Broadt. “Sometimes it’s hard to get people to take their medication. These medical problems are truly serious conditions.
With the number of patients steadily increasing, she believes her full-time presence and low-key approach is spreading.
“I think there are discussions in the community, ‘We have a provider now, why don’t you go see her?’ ” she said.
The news also spread to the Tieton and Cowiche region. The fact that the Highland Clinic is in Tieton and has a full-time medical provider makes a difference for some families, said Isabel Garcia, executive director of Yakima Valley Partners Habitat for Humanity.
Recognizing a need for affordable housing in Tieton, the nonprofit is completing the first three of many other Habitat homes there, with the first home slated for noon on August 29. It will be the home of Maria Martinez and her two children.
“For our program applicants, when we were marketing our three homes, having medical care nearby was a must,” Garcia said. “We had other families; one of the barriers that kept them from owning a home in Tieton was the lack of medical services … especially for families with young children.
With the announcement of the opening of the Highland Clinic, “they changed their minds and decided to move to Tieton,” she said.
González-Broadt relishes his new role in Tieton.
“We’re having a great time. Every day is something different. That stuff is worth every second,” she said.