Offering medical treatment for Aurora’s poor with dollars and sense

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AURORA | Doctors can treat a patient’s physical problems, but when it comes to what ails many patients, money, the cure is elusive.

Even if the only help a patient needs is a bus pass, or stable housing or a few job skills — there’s no prescription to make it happen, even though those problems may have as big an impact on a patient’s illness as any physical malady.

Reid Hettich and Maisha Fields pose Feb. 16 in the Dayton Street Opportunity Center in Aurora. The facility will offer free health care for the uninsured, job training skills, college counseling for young people and help others navigate various social service programs they may qualify for. (Nathan Leach-Proffer/For the Aurora Sentinel)
Reid Hettich and Maisha Fields pose Feb. 16 in the Dayton Street Opportunity Center in Aurora. The facility will offer free health care for the uninsured, job training skills, college counseling for young people and help others navigate various social service programs they may qualify for. (Nathan Leach-Proffer/For the Aurora Sentinel)

As a nurse practitioner, Maisha Fields saw those cases too often.

“They needed the high blood pressure medication,” said Fields, the executive director of the Fields-Wolfe Memorial Foundation. “But at the end of the day I wanted to write a prescription that said: here’s a job, here’s a voucher for preschool, here is a book.”

A storefront on Dayton Street just south of East Colfax Avenue will soon offer that wide variety of services for people in need — whether it’s medical care, job training or education.

The Fields-Wolfe Memorial Foundation is set to open the Dayton Street Opportunity Center in early March at 1445 Dayton Street. The facility will offer free health care for the uninsured, job training skills, college counseling for young people and help others navigate various social service programs they may qualify for.

The facility will offer health care through the Dawn Clinic, a program run by medical students at the nearby University of Colorado School of Medicine at the Anschutz Medical Campus. Colorado State University will also have a presence there, Fields said, providing financial aid counselors and admissions counselors for students looking at college.

The facility will provide classroom, meeting and kitchen space to area nonprofits that need it, too.

Other nonprofits will have a permanent presence there, Fields said, utilizing the office space and reaching out to the nearby community regularly. One of those is longtime Denver nonprofit Servicios De La Raza, which works with the Latino population.

Fields said she is looking for other nonprofits who will call the facility home.

Medical care, educational services, job training and whatever other services local nonprofits can imagine might sound like a lot for one facility, but Fields said that wide breadth of services is the point.

“This facility has no wrong door, anyone who comes in will be able to receive services,” Fields said.

Rudy Gonzales, executive director of Servicios De La Raza, said the Opportunity Center’s expansive mission mirrors that of his organization, which has for years shied away from specializing in just one area of human services and has instead opted to try to provide whatever their clients need.

Gonzales said if Servicios has a niche, it’s that they don’t have one and are instead a “one-stop agency.”

The facility will focus on the north Aurora neighborhoods that surround it — neighborhoods that have long been known for higher than average poverty, crime and struggling schools — but Fields said they won’t limit themselves to the immediate area. If people from Montbello or south Aurora come in needing help with job training, getting enrolled in food assistance, Medicaid or other services, Fields said the Opportunity Center will help them out, too.

Fields said a variety of issues — lack of health care, few economic options and poor education — all contribute to the opportunity gap that many people in low-income neighborhoods face. That’s why the facility is aiming at various pieces of that gap, aiming to tackle the issues from all sides.

Dr. Joseph Johnson, the foundation’s chief medical officer, said that during his time as a doctor in Aurora and Denver he often sees people facing the same troubles Fields did, and faced the same frustration knowing that a simple prescription for medicine wasn’t going to fix the troubles they had. He said a common example is a diabetic who is homeless or doesn’t have access to a refrigerator. A doctor can prescribe them insulin, but if they can’t keep it cold it won’t do them much good.

Johnson, who helped found the Dawn Clinic, said that doesn’t mean doctors don’t want to help with more than just the medical side of things.

“Whatever your chief complaint is when you come into my office, I want to be able to help you with that,” he said.

At the Opportunity Center, Johnson said he is looking forward to being able to help people with problems that extend far beyond the four walls of an exam room, be it a young person who needs help getting into college or an adult who needs help getting a job.

“Being able to directly intervene on that, on the workforce development, is a very powerful idea for us,” he said.