TIETON — Off came the stethoscope and white lab coat as Jennifer González-Broadt reached for her workout gear. It was time to change for Zumba class.
González-Broadt, a physician assistant at Community Health of Central Washington’s Highland Clinic, leads free classes at 5:15 p.m. every Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday on “the porch” of the clinic at 915 Wisconsin Ave. About a dozen women and girls mirrored her movements on the building’s wooden deck as dance music pulsed in the 95-degree air.
“It’s exercise class for whoever wants to come, and they don’t have to be my patient,” said González-Broadt, a native of Texas who prefers to be called Jenna.
She joined the Highland Clinic staff in April as its first full-time medical provider, more than a year after the clinic’s opening ended a decades-long lack of a primary care provider in and around this growing Upper Valley town of around 1,300.
Community Health, which operates the Central Washington Family Medicine clinic and residency program, had long wanted to open a clinic in the Tieton area. In August 2015, the organization received a $1,057,452 grant to develop a new clinic site in the Yakima Valley.
That grant, part of the Affordable Care Act, was meant to expand primary care services to new patients and would be ongoing if federal dollars continue to come through, officials said at the time.
Having a full-time medical provider in town is crucial to reach more people, especially uninsured and underinsured individuals. More services means more options for those who don’t want to drive to Yakima — and those who can’t drive to Yakima because of limited transportation or limited time away from work.
It also means another provider for those in Yakima and elsewhere. González-Broadt is still accepting new patients. Considering the Yakima Valley’s continuing shortage of medical providers, that can be well worth the drive.
In building her patient base, González-Broadt hopes to reach those who haven’t visited the doctor for years or even decades because of fear — of doctors, of the diagnosis, of pills, of the cost. One way of connecting with those potential patients is leaving the office and being part of the community, and others have noticed.
“You make your contacts however you can, if it’s the exercise or the walk to the corner store,” González-Broadt said.
She and her family relocated to the Yakima Valley amid one of the coldest and snowiest winters in recent memory.
“I moved here in a blizzard from Texas with three dogs, two cats and three kids,” González-Broadt said of her family’s arrival around Christmas. “And did my training at (Central Washington Family Medicine) until April.”
A native of Harlingen, González-Broadt, 44, has a bachelor’s degree in exercise science from the University of Texas at Brownsville and a master’s degree in physician assistant studies from the University of Texas-Pan American.
Her husband, Wayne Broadt, a physical therapist, lived in Everett for a little while, she said. While in Texas, the family would return to the Pacific Northwest for vacations, lured by the mountains. González-Broadt learned about the Highland Clinic opening last fall.
“I was super attracted to this job,” González-Broadt said. “I couldn’t ask for a more perfect situation.”
At the time, Dr. Maria Verduzco, site director at Central Washington Family Medicine, was also the medical site director and lead physician for the Highland Clinic, which opened on Dec. 2, 2015.
“It took us all of this time to find a provider. Until Jenna got there, we were basically robbing 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 (physician assistants) from there had been rotating out there so we could maintain about 20 hours of clinic time 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 (Yakima Valley Farm Worker’s Clinic),” Maples said. “Beyond that period there was not a provider. That was more than 30 years ago.”
About eight years ago, the community sought a consultant from the Department of Agriculture to come to Tieton, Maples said. The consultant spent the better part of a winter having meetings around visioning for the community.
One of Central Washington’s resident physicians lived in Tieton at the time and encouraged Maples to join the discussion.
“This was a very high priority that arose out of that planning discussion,” Maples said of a clinic with a full-time medical provider.
González-Broadt’s patients range from babies to people in their 90s, from migrant workers to transplanted West Side residents who live in the converted lofts near the Mighty Tieton Warehouse.
Her experience ranges from working at a family practice to assisted living facilities. She especially enjoyed working with those residents, she said.
“I was that one person that would come see them once a week. Why? Because you can really change people’s lives,” González-Broadt said.
The clinic’s seven-person staff includes an outreach worker and a medical assistant.
“My office manager grew up here,” she said of Mireya Galvez, a registered nurse who graduated from Highland High School in nearby Cowiche.
González-Broadt estimated that at least 75 percent of her patients — possibly more — are Mexican-American who live in and around Tieton for jobs in the fruit packing houses and orchards.
“I was born and raised poor myself. I try really hard to connect on that level,” she said.
In particular, she hopes to reach those who deal with medical issues that “are going undiagnosed for a long time” due to a fear of doctors, fear of the diagnosis or other issues, she said.
“A lot of our culture is enveloped in this ‘pills are bad’” attitude, González-Broadt added. “Sometimes it’s hard to get people to take their meds. These medical issues are real serious conditions.”
With a steady increase in patients, she thinks word is getting out about her full-time presence and low-key approach.
“I think there’s talk in the community — ‘We have a provider now, why don’t you go see her?’ ” she said.
Word has reached beyond the Tieton and Cowiche area as well. 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 finishing the first three of potentially many more Habitat homes there, with dedication of the first home set for noon Aug. 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 close by was a must,” Garcia said. “We’ve had other families; one of the barriers to them owning a home in Tieton was lack of medical services … especially for families with small children.”
With word that the Highland Clinic opened, “they changed their minds about moving to Tieton,” she said.
González-Broadt relishes her still-new role in Tieton.
“We have a good time. Every single day it’s something different. That kind of stuff, it’s worth every second of it,” she said.