Community gathers for grand opening of new First Choice center

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Los Lunas

Members of the public came out to show their support Saturday morning for the grand opening and ribbon cutting of the new First Choice Los Lunas Family and Community Health Center.

Ungelbah Daniel-Davila-News-Bulletin photo: Distinguished members of the community gathered Saturday morning for the grand opening and ribbon cutting of the new First Choice Los Lunas Center for Family and Community Health.

Los Lunas resident Maria Ayala, who works at the First Choice in Alamosa, said she wanted to come out and see the new clinic. She thinks the new health center is very important to the community as a place to vaccinate children, provide health care to the elderly and “everyone that needs to be seen by a provider is seen.”

In the audience was Stephanie Flynn, executive director of the Valencia County Chamber of Commerce, who said she came out “to support First Choice because they are one of our members and to support the community.”

Flynn said the center is important because it operates based on income and “takes everyone’s insurance, so it helps a lot of people that are going to need those extra services.”

First Choice CEO Bob DeFelice began the program of speakers by reminiscing about gathering 12 months ago, “shovels in hand, in this spot to break ground on this project site. But that’s not where the story really started,” he said. “The story started 36 years ago, when First Choice made a commitment to the community here in Valencia County to provide primary care services and we have for the past 36 years, operating health centers in Los Lunas and Belen.”

Among the guest speakers were U.S. Rep. Steve Pearce (R-N.M.), Sen. Michael Sanchez (D-Belen), Los Lunas Mayor Richard Vialpando and First Choice Board of Directors President Paul Luna.

“I’ve been visiting with my mom, she’s in her 80s now, and when we get a chance to talk, we talk about those early years when I was born and we lived in Southeast New Mexico and just across the line into western Texas,” Pearce said. “She talks about family members who got pneumonia or got something they called the croup and they just died because there was really no health care available.”

Pearce said growing up cod liver oil was the alternative to health care.

“Just the sound of cod liver oil cured me,” he joked, adding, “So what we are doing here is making health care accessible to families just like ours who lived in an area with out much health care, frankly.”

The new facility contains a dental center with 10 operatives, which will result in shorter waits, including a quite room for special needs patients. In addition to medical and behavioral health, the center is outfitter with state of the art equipment, such as a Panorex X-ray, which is a digital x-ray that is able to x-ray the whole mouth and uses less radiation.

“It’s really great that this service, this facility, and it’s state of the art, it’s a beautiful facility,” said Vialpando. “I saw it coming together little by little, is here to help the residents of Los Lunas and the residents of Valencia County.”

The day not only marked the opening of a new center, but the 40th anniversary for First Choice, and was celebrated with guided tours of the new facility, live music and food.

First Choice employee Lavette Gonzales volunteered her talents with face painting for the children and also on hand was Dr. Cleo, the First Choice tiger mascot to entertain the youngsters.


-- Email the author at udavila@news-bulletin.com.