Story by Katie Kelton. Photos by Josie Gammett.
Medical staff at federally qualified health centers are the unsung heroes of healthcare for all, and the team at North Texas Area Community Health Centers (NTACHC) is no exception. Since 2002, NTACHC has provided high quality medical services to low income populations, bridging the gap of health disparities and medical accessibility.
In 2019, the centers served 13,000 patients, and numbers are growing. To meet increasing demand, NTACHC has welcomed two new doctors, two new family practitioners, and a new director of nursing and access: Dr. Patricia Rodriguez, Dr. Jorge Ontiveros, Christa Bolden, Jenelle Dugan, and Leah Creamer, respectively.
Dr. Patricia Rodriguez shared about her route to NTACHC, a passion for federally qualified health centers (FQAHCs), and investment in the children of Tarrant County.
As an American woman of Mexican descent and a native Spanish speaker, Dr. Rodriguez is more than qualified to care for the children and mothers in the often underserved Spanish-speaking community across North Texas.
“Community health has my heart,” Dr. Rodriguez gushes. “I love to serve the most vulnerable people in the community. I am using my skill sets in a way that is valuable and helpful to other people.”
A graduate of the University of Texas Medical School at Houston, Dr. Rodriguez served as Director of Pediatrics for a Houston-area federally qualified health center and Vice President and Chief Health Equity & Inclusion Officer for Children’s Health in Dallas before making her way to NTACHC in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic. She describes the opportunity as “stars aligning,” after a timely phone call led her through their doors as the new Director of Pediatrics. Her expertise in pediatrics combined with her fluent Spanish allows her to communicate with mothers without an interpreter. She brings an understanding of the cultural aspects of health to every appointment, forming a special connection with parents.
“My life’s purpose is to help children thrive and grow and become emotionally regulated adults,” she shares. “I’m able to do that because parents trust me and I’m able to take care of their kids.”
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, racial minorities often receive lower quality medical care than white Americans. While these differences in care may be attributed to historical patterns and financial and cultural barriers, the disparity persists even in our own zip codes. NTACHC’s vision to create a healthy community for all people carries undertones of addressing this racial inequity.
The centers have also adapted quickly during the coronavirus pandemic. With 22% of Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex residents needing help with bills, 13% needing help with health insurance coverage, and 26% concerned about medical issues other than COVID-19, the global health crisis hits close to home. NTACHC is a primary player in meeting Tarrant County residents’ needs. Amid increased precautions and appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE), children require regular checkups, vaccines, and care when they are sick. From appointment check-ins to telemedicine to reimbursements, Dr. Rodriguez’s team has developed innovative ways to service their patients in person and virtually. Even when decked out in PPE, the physicians remain in good spirits. “I tell the kids, ‘I look like I’m heading to outer space!’” Dr. Rodriguez laughs.
Whether conversing with parents in their first language or meeting her patients’ ongoing needs during the pandemic, Dr. Rodriguez sees her career as the only viable path. In her words, “This is where I belong.”