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The Pulse: Stories from the Heart

March 29, 2022 by Mountain Family
Pictured Above: Jan Jennings, Director of Development (left) & Dr. Gail Mizner, MD, FACP, AAHIVM (right) – Mountain Family Health Centers

We have heroes here at Mountain Family Health Centers. They are our family of dedicated staff who are the heartbeat of our organization. Our staff are committed to the health of all persons in our community.   

In this new series, The Pulse, Stories from the Heart, we will share stories of our healthcare heroes and the patients they care for, to show how our organization is achieving our important mission.  

At Mountain Family Health Centers, we improve the health of our community by providing equitable and affordable medical, behavioral, and dental healthcare for all. We firmly believe that healthcare is a human right. We work hard to ensure access and affordability to this care and medications for all our community’s residents, regardless of their insurance status or ability to pay.  

Dr. Gail Mizner, MD, FACP, AAHIVM, is the embodiment of our mission. We could not be prouder to have her as a mentor and advisor to our staff. Dr. Mizner has been chosen by the State of Colorado to chair the Prescription Drug Affordability Board. This board is working to reduce the prices of prescription drugs in Colorado. She is the first example we wish to share of how our staff supports our goals, which in turn, supports you, your health, and our community. 

In her Own Words “I love the mission of Mountain Family to provide high-quality care to people who might not have access to affordable care in any other setting. I love the fact that I can really practice at the top of my license at MFHC. I can take care of patients with very serious, life-impacting and, sometimes, life-threatening diseases and make sure they get the tests and treatment they need despite barriers such as lack of insurance and access to subspecialists.”

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To schedule an appointment, please call 970-945-2840. 
(Please note that Dr. Mizner is not accepting new patients, but we have many other bi-lingual providers ready to care for you. Click here to choose a provider.) 
We look forward to hearing from you soon. Thank you for your support.

Dr. Mizner loves her role as the internal medicine consultant for MFHC, focusing on autoimmune diseases, endocrinology, and HIV care. Before returning home to Colorado in 2010,  she practiced internal medicine, hospice, and HIV care for six years in Prescott, AZ. Before that, she practiced internal medicine in Northern Chile for seven years, running HIV programs in two hospitals, becoming fluent in Spanish along the way. She also spent two years in Ely, Nevada, as the only internist in an extremely rural and isolated setting. She is a former faculty member in internal medicine at the University of Colorado Health Sciences Center, as well as former head of physician education for UCHSC’s AIDS Education and Training Center. Dr. Mizner earned her MD from the Yale University School of Medicine. When not in the clinic, she can be found with her family on local slopes and hiking trails. While Dr. Mizner is not accepting new patients at this time, there are many caring physicians available to see you. Call 970-945-2840 to schedule an appointment today. 


When did you join Mountain Family?

I joined Mountain Family in September of 2010. My husband and I had decided to move to the area because we’re both [almost] native Coloradoans. We were living in Arizona and really missed Colorado. I wanted to be closer to my father, wanted our youngest son to be able to ski race, and we love the RFV have long roots here. When I came, I knew I didn’t want to go into private practice. I found MFHC and worked hard to convince them that they should hire in Internal Medicine Dr. because they had been traditionally Family Practice-based, and still are, but I did convince them and that has been very gratifying.

What attracts you most about Mountain Family?

I love the mission of Mountain Family to provide high-quality care to people who might not get it otherwise in any other setting. I love the fact that I can really practice at the top of my license at MFHC. I can take care of patients with very serious, significant diseases and make sure they get good care. Whereas, given both lack of insurance coverage and lack of sub-specialists in our area, they might not otherwise be able to get that at all. I really enjoy both the relationships with the patients and how grateful they usually are and the intellectual stimulation of constantly learning and constantly trying to figure out what is best for my patients. The other part I really enjoy is that MFHC has allowed me to develop a consultative role where the other providers send me questions through the patients’ charts and I can help them with Internal Medicine-related issues and to just help them work too, as they’re always striving to improve the quality of care for our patients. 

I know you’ve practiced rural medicine and also in Northern Chile. Do you find something unique about Mountain Family that’s unique among other health centers or rural-based health providers?

I think the thing that stands out at this point is that we offer relatively comprehensive care in that we have both Behavioral Health and Dental Health integrated into our Medical Care. The other rural settings I’ve been in, my career started as a faculty member at the University of Colorado, but my husband is a mining engineer, so I ended up following him around the world for his work and fortunately a Physician, while sometimes difficult, you usually can find a way to work almost anywhere so I was in what was essentially a private practice, but only one of two practices in rural Nevada in Ely, Nevada and learned there the essential nature of making good contacts with sub-specialists and other physicians who could help me manage patients in this very rural setting, but didn’t have the kind of support in terms of Dental and Behavioral Health that Mountain Family provides. When we moved to Chile I couldn’t practice right away, I had to do what they call a revalidation of my medical degree which involved, of course, learning Spanish and then taking six medial exams in Spanish. So, it took me a little while to do that and then I was in the public health system which is relatively good, but has some major flaws as well in Chile, so patients were always having to wait a long time for appointments, and it was hard for them to get in and sometimes we could get medication for them and sometimes we couldn’t. Just to get an ultrasound, for example, in a timely fashion sometimes patients would have to be admitted. Certainly, MFHC has its challenges with patients having difficulty paying for radiological exams they need, for example, but we have quite a dedicated staff and a system for helping patients with those issues. We have staff that know where’s the cheapest place to get a radiological exam or what’s the best strategy if this patient is going to need a lot of hospital-based care to help them manage that. Another thing I appreciate is CAP fund we have which is an assistance program for patients where we can give them up to $500 a year to help them cover outside costs for medical things that they need.

What are some of the greatest joys and barriers to providing medical care in rural areas or in an area like ours?

I think the greatest joys are seeing patients get better, seeing people realize that they have a good source for treatment and that they are going to get taken care of and that they can improve their health. I’ve experienced that throughout my career with people with HIV and that’s occurred over and over again including in Chile where people come in and think that they’re going to die and then realize that there is a source of treatment and they’re going to be okay, and they can live a nearly normal life. So, that’s true for HIV, it’s true for many rheumatologic patients¬¬ that I treat who come in with terrible pain and other issues due to their autoimmune disease and had no idea that we can treat those diseases with very inexpensive meds or when we need to get expensive medication, we have ways of trying to obtain those for them. The gratitude and relief that I see on patients faces is one of the most rewarding things, I think. There are a lot of barriers. Hospital care is extraordinarily expensive and even though I know that once a patient has a big bill at a hospital, often they will receive a major discount, it’s very scary for patients and people who are uninsured to even think about taking on that kind of debt. That can be really frustrating to try to help them negotiate getting the care that they need.

What has been the greatest challenge for you at Mountain Family related to the COVID pandemic?

Most of my patients have been great about getting vaccinated. I’ve had probably less frustration than some of my colleagues, in terms of day after day of patients who are unwilling to get vaccinated and therefore putting themselves, their family, their community, their healthcare providers at risk, but I still feel that frustration to some extent. I think keeping all of us going and safe during this lengthy pandemic has been really the biggest challenge. I know our staff is, it’s hard not to feel burned out, I’ve felt it myself at times and yet reality is that the pandemic is still ongoing and that we need to be taking the precautions that we’re taking and encouraging patients to get vaccinated. Our staff has done an incredible job of vaccinating people and offering mass vaccination clinics. It’s taken its toll and people are tired and sometimes don’t have as much time to work on the medical issues that are so important for our patients, so we’re all stretched pretty thin and especially the people on the ground who are in the clinics every day. 

Can you please describe your role on the Colorado Prescription Drug Affordability Board. What are the aims of this board?

It was an honor. I was quite surprised when I was asked to do it. This is new legislation that creates this Type I Board. It consists of five people who are charged with picking up to 12 prescription medications per year on which we place a cap on the cost. So that cap will affect not just patients, but pharmaceutical companies, insurance companies, etc. There are a lot of stakeholders involved in this and, of course, the pharmaceutical companies are the ones who make the medications, and the Board because it’s brand new we’re creating the rule as we go along, of course following the legislation as it’s written, with a wonderful staff of people who do much of the work for us, but we’ve now met twice and we’re still in the process of rulemaking and choosing an advisory council and we’ve got a consultant group from Harvard that has helped Massachusetts go through this process as well. It’s quite an adventure for me and something that is relatively new to me, but I’m passionate about it because I see on a daily basis the barriers that patients face (both insured and uninsured) to be able to obtain much-needed, important, essential medications. I’m excited to be a part of this experiment of seeing what we can do to decrease medication costs in our state.

Although Aspen is a resort community and houses some of the wealthiest residents in the US, with our seasonal workforce and more data shows that we have 1,400 residents in Aspen who are living at the Federal poverty level and not using our healthcare services (in Basalt or Glenwood, for example). Do you have any recommendations as to how we connect to these residents?

One of the things that I think we need to do is make the employers aware of these folks more aware of the existence of Mountain Family. I’m pretty startled much of the time when people ask me where I work, wealthy or middle-class Aspen people and I tell them and they have never heard of Mountain Family Health Centers. If those people don’t know about it, people who have a language barrier and aren’t necessarily listening to the news, are also going to be unaware of it. I think that would be one approach, to make the entire population more generally aware of Mountain Family and what we do. The other thing and I know we have communication with the Community Health Center (CCHN?), but certainly encouraging them to refer patients who are appropriate to us would make a lot of sense. I think the other thing has to end up being word of mouth, so patients who live up in the higher part of our valley know that the Basalt clinic is there and be encouraged to make appointments.

Not only do you “give” to Mountain Family with your work here as a medical doctor, but you also give as a Founding Member to Mountain Family. As you know, Founding Members are a special group of benefactors who have made a three-year pledge to Mountain Family by making gifts each year to help us build our financial stability. As a Founding Member, do you have any words to share as to why you are motivated to make gifts to Mountain Family and our Health For All Fund?

I believe that everyone has the right to good healthcare and Mountain Family is probably the biggest organization in our valley working that is really working to provide anyone who needs it with good healthcare, so that is my passion. I also learned to speak Spanish fluently in Chile, so it’s important to me to use that gift that I received to help a population that is drastically underserved and I know what it’s like to live in a foreign country when even making a phone call seems like a difficult thing to do and so I have a lot of compassion for people that are in that situation and I want to help them.

Along that note, is there any message that you want to send to our Spanish-speaking community? 

Tu salud es súper importante no solamente prevenir la enfermedad de COVID pero tratar y prevenir otras enfermedades antes que se empeoren mucho y en las clínicas de Mountain Family podemos ofrecerles buen diagnóstico y tratamiento con poco costo y espero que vayan a venir a vernos y ver lo que se puede hacer para mejorar su salud.


Mountain Family Health Centers is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit Federally Qualified Health Center

OUR MISSION

We improve the health of our community by providing equitable and affordable medical, behavioral, and dental healthcare for all.


970-945-2840
contact@mountainfamily.org
(general questions only)
1905 Blake Avenue, Suite 101
Glenwood Springs, CO 81601