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While many aspects of daily life have returned to pre-pandemic routines or settled into new patterns, certain upheavals remain.
For example, long waits for doctor visits have become the norm. Because of an aging population with increasing health care needs and the Great Resignation that began in 2021 — when 117,000 physicians, 53,295 nurse practitioners, and 22,704 physician assistants left the workforce, according to Definitive Healthcare — hospitals and general practices have struggled to keep up with an ever-increasing workload.
Primary care on-demand
In Helena, however, people can see a doctor right away, not weeks or months from now, because the Helena Indian Alliance Leo Pocha Memorial Clinic focuses on getting patients the care they need when they need it.
“We can usually get people in the same week,” said Melanie Funke, a nurse practitioner at Helena Indian Alliance. “You can make a phone call and get in, in the next few days.”
At Leo Pocha Memorial Clinic, patients can access primary care, outpatient non-emergency care, sexually transmitted infection testing, counseling, immunizations, cancer screenings, substance use disorder support, and mental health support.
“We do a little of everything,” Funke said. “People can get their questions answered a lot quicker. Our follow-up with patients is pretty quick, within 24 to 48 hours.”
While Helena Indian Alliance provides care to underserved populations, such as Native Americans, anyone can seek medical care at any time.
“A lot of people assume we only see Native Americans, We are an Urban Indian Health Center which operates a contract with Indian Health Services to provide care for the American Indian population at no cost to them.” Funke said. “However, we see anybody. Whether you have insurance, no insurance, private insurance, we see anybody. It is a $25 co-pay, We also offer a sliding fee scale, Helena Indian Alliance strives to serve everyone. Regardless of their inability to pay. There's a lot we can do for a minimal price for a patient.”
Whole person care
On a typical day, Funke and her fellow providers see each patient for at least 30 minutes to ask about overall needs, rather than focusing on a single diagnosis.
“We really try to get native and underserved populations hooked up with community resources,” Funke said. “We have a peer support specialist, a patient advocate, work with people on housing, job applications, getting signed up for insurance, a lot of resources. It’s not just, ‘oh, sorry you're not feeling well,’ and then sending them home. We are getting them set up to succeed in life in general, not just their health.”
When doctors diagnose patients with conditions or health concerns beyond the clinic's scope, they’ll refer them to specialists. For instance, the clinic offers women’s health care but refers patients to a family practice or obstetrician gynecologist for prenatal care.
“We’re the managers of a person’s health, the gateway,” Funke said. “They come in, we treat with the basic stuff, rule out the basic stuff, prescribe basic medications. If that doesn’t fix the issue, we send you on to a specialist. Most specialists need a referral from general practice to help cut down on their caseloads.”
The clinic also helps Native American people enroll as members of American Indian tribes, or help with proof of descendancy depending on the tribe qualifications which allows them to qualify for additional resources.
For more information about Helena Indian Alliance and its services, visit hia-mt.org or call 406-449-5796.