Getting to Know NOAH Nonprofit transforms the community’s health

By Alison Bailin Batz

In 1997, the Valley had a problem in its schools.

“There was a severe nursing shortage, so much so that for many schools, having a full-time nurse was a luxury,” says Michael Pearson, director of marketing and engagement for what is today called Neighborhood Outreach Access to Health (NOAH).

To help, a program called Neighborhood Outreach Action to Health (also NOAH) was developed through Scottsdale Healthcare. Through it, a traveling nurse practitioner went from school to school across the Scottsdale and Paradise Valley unified school districts and provided on-the-spot care for children, especially those from Title I schools and low-income homes.

“Within a year, we changed ‘action’ to ‘access’ in our name and realized we needed more manpower due to demand,” Pearson says.

NOAH invested in a mobile medical unit and then, by 2001, put in a brick-and-mortar health center at Palomino Primary School on 29th Street and Greenway as well.

The brick-and-mortar center soon became a health center for the community in need, both adults and children, so much so that NOAH added dental operations at Palomino and then slowly opened small centers across the North Valley, as budgets permitted.

“Things moved along at this slower clip until we made the decision to expand from a program and service of the hospital system to our own 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization in 2011,” says Pearson, noting NOAH does still have the bus, but only as a display and artifact of their humble beginnings now.

“We remained affiliated with Scottsdale Healthcare (and later HonorHealth), but the change allowed us to apply for critical funding to expand our service offerings, staff and locations tenfold. It also allowed us to submit for grants.”

Among the first major grants received was from the Delta Dental of Arizona Foundation to expand access to preventative care for children across the region. Another expansion: adding behavioral health.

“Our vision was to deliver comprehensive health services including medical, dental, behavioral health, nutrition, prenatal care, preventive health, eligibility assistance and health education programs to one and all, no matter their economic status or coverage,” Pearson says.

By 2012, NOAH applied for and was approved as a federally qualified health center, which allowed for expanded funding, grants, donations and government assistance to give as many people as possible access to care, and in 2013 it allowed them to add behavioral health consultants and eventually counselors as well.

“Among one of our biggest, most recent moves came in 2015 as Scottsdale Healthcare and John C. Lincoln merged,” Pearson says.

According to Pearson, many don’t know the story of the real John C. Lincoln and his wife, Helen, who suffered from what they were told was incurable tuberculosis. Given a death sentence, Helen and her family moved to the Valley in 1934 to obtain help from the Desert Mission center, which was a tuberculous clinic.

“They not only successfully treated Helen and saved her life but showed the entire Lincoln family the critical work being done in Arizona in the area of health,” Pearson says.

Helen, who lived into her 100s, rallied her husband and other well-heeled business leaders to support Desert Mission’s important work as well as to create John C. Lincoln Hospital.

“When Scottsdale Healthcare and John C. Lincoln merged, the decision was made to move Desert Mission under NOAH’s trusted care,” Pearson says.

Today, NOAH oversees nine centers across the Northeast and Northwest valleys, notably Cholla Health Center, Heuser Family Medicine Center, Heuser Pediatric Dental and Palomino Health Center in greater Scottsdale.

“Our dental program in Arizona is an especially big point of pride and a long-term partnership with Delta Dental,” Pearson says.

Its many partnerships include a two-year $100,000 Impact Grant that allows service to be provided to children and the newly created Delta Dental of Arizona Dental Connect program.

Dental Connect funds emergency dental treatment at NOAH for uninsured patients who visit HonorHealth emergency departments with dental issues. This is made possible by a $525,000 donation by Delta Dental.

“Patients experiencing a dental crisis usually come to the emergency department as a last resort, and with at least one — and usually more — dental issues,” says Wendy Armendariz, NOAH chief executive officer.

“These issues can be causing severe pain, impacting other areas of a patient’s health, and probably interfering with their day-to-day life. Through Dental Connect, when an uninsured patient checks into an HonorHealth emergency room and presents with a dental emergency, facial pain or other related oral health issue, he or she will be referred to the appropriate NOAH dental staff member for care.”

According to Armendariz, NOAH will then set a virtual triage appointment for the patient with a dentist, typically within 24 hours. After the triage appointment, NOAH schedules the appointment at one of its local dental clinics to begin the emergency dental work.

“We are also very focused on using technology to develop comprehensive telehealth options for our patients and, thanks to donations from the likes of the Hickey Foundation and IBIS Family Foundation, can provide service in approximately 40 languages as needed, taking away virtually any barrier to care one may have,” Pearson says.

Full-service offerings in person, via telehealth and in 40-plus languages include family medicine, internal medicine, pediatrics, dental, prenatal, counseling, psychiatry and nutrition services.

NOAH expects to see more than 45,000 patients this year via 220,000-plus appointments. This is up from 38,000 patients and 174,000 appointments in 2020.

“We are doing our part to transform the health of the Valley, one person at a time,” Pearson says.   


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