Nurse practitioner Chris Brickley’s passion for rural health care has been good medicine for the 3,000 or so people scattered throughout the Mimbres Valley and deeper into the Gila National Forest of New Mexico.
Brickley and her husband, Charlie Campbell, moved to Silver City (pop. 10,545) in southern New Mexico from Waco, Texas, in 1996. Campbell went to work as a nurse at the local dialysis clinic, and Brickley was hired at an urgent care clinic in Silver City.
At her new job, Brickley noticed people from outlying areas came to the clinic with serious health problems such as dangerously high blood pressure. Because they had no access to primary health care near their homes, they often put off the hour-long trip to town until their chronic diseases had caused bigger problems.
It was then Brickley learned that Dr. Shelby King had run a clinic in the Mimbres Valley until he retired seven years earlier—and the building that had housed his clinic was empty. She decided to reopen it.
Brickley already had started a rural health clinic on the north rim of the Grand Canyon that was a satellite clinic of an already established health-care system. This time, she was on her own—facing both a challenge and a dream come true.
“I always liked rural health care, which is why I became a nurse practitioner,” she says. “Nurse practitioners are trained to offer primary care in rural areas where there are no doctors.”
She developed a business plan, borrowed money, rented the building, and opened the doors of the Mimbres Clinic. Business was slow enough at first that she had to run the clinic alone, without even a receptionist. But word spread rapidly, and soon Brickley was overwhelmingly busy.
One day, Robin Osborne was sitting in the waiting room. She watched Brickley try to answer the phone and treat patients at the same time, then volunteered to help. “She just asked, ‘Would you like me to answer the phone?’” Brickley recalls.
Robin was the first of many regular volunteers the first year. The clinic just recently made enough money for Brickley to pay a receptionist. Brickley still doesn’t draw a salary and works as a nurse two days a week at a local homeless shelter to make ends meet.
Brickley says the volunteers kept the clinic going.
“The real heroes are the people in this community. People poured out of the woodwork to help get it off the ground,” she says.
Volunteers planted a garden and installed handicap bars inside the clinic hallways and bathroom. Brickley’s landlady donated paving to make the clinic wheelchair accessible. Residents volunteered to check on sick, homebound seniors, freeing Brickley to make the most important house calls. Wynn Mott, a retired administrator, helps communicate with insurance companies, and Brickley became the first nurse practitioner in New Mexico to contract with several major insurance companies.
Residents are thrilled to have her. “She’s really caring, and that makes a difference,” says Wilma May, a longtime resident of Lake Roberts Heights, one of the tiny communities served by the Mimbres Clinic.
Brickley says the clinic would never have become a reality without her husband’s support. “He knew it was my passion,” she says. “He’s been willing to give up income, and he keeps the books and does the billing for the clinic.”
The community’s enthusiastic response to the clinic convinced other health providers in Silver City that there really was a need for health care in the Mimbres. So two days a week, Brickley shares the clinic with other health care providers, including a doctor, a dentist, and a chiropractor.
Thanks to Brickley’s determination, the Mimbres Clinic is alive and well, and so are the residents of the Mimbres Valley.