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The University of Arizona Area Health Education Center Program is partnering with the Arizona Advisory Council on Indian Health Care to develop a center focusing on Arizona’s American Indian health system and its workforce.

The Arizona Area Health Education Center (AzAHEC) Program at the University of Arizona Health Sciences recently selected the Arizona Advisory Council on Indian Health Care to develop a new American Indian Health AHEC Regional Center dedicated to developing health profession education initiatives and expanding access to health care for tribal communities in Arizona.

The new American Indian Health (AIH) AHEC Regional Center will be the sixth AHEC Regional Center in Arizona. It is the first in the state of Arizona and one of few in the United States outside of Alaska to focus exclusively on the American Indian health care system and its workforce.

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American Indians have some of the highest rates of health disparities, poverty and poor health outcomes when compared with other ethnic and minority communities in the country, according to the Indian Health Service. 

“Tribes in Arizona experience a serious shortage of health care professionals compared to other regions in the state,” said Leila Barraza, JD, MPH, director of the AzAHEC Program and associate professor of community, environment and policy in the Mel and Enid Zuckerman College of Public Health. “The new American Indian Health Regional Center can begin to alleviate some of these shortages by working closely with our tribal health systems and enhancing their current workforce strategies.”  

In collaboration with the San Carlos Apache Healthcare Corporation and Gila River Health Care, the AIH-AHEC Regional Center will implement educational and training activities to improve the supply and distribution of health care professionals within tribal communities.

The mission of the AzAHEC Program is “to enhance access to quality health care, particularly primary and preventive care, by improving the supply and distribution of health care professionals through academic community educational partnerships in rural and urban medical underserved areas.” 

The AIH-AHEC Regional Center will help build a future health care workforce by providing community-based health professions rotations, assisting with continuing education, supporting health care staff and promoting health care careers for K-12 students.

The AIC-AHEC joins five existing AHEC Regional Centers in Arizona:

  • Central Arizona AHEC, housed in the Arizona Alliance for Community Health Centers in Phoenix, represents 23 community health center systems in 175 sites across the state and serves as Arizona’s Primary Care Association. 
  • Colorado Plateau Center for Health Professions, housed in North Country HealthCare in Flagstaff, has Federally Qualified Health Center (FQHC) sites across northern Arizona’s counties. 
  • Eastern Arizona AHEC, based in in Globe.
  • Southern Arizona AHEC, housed in El Rio Health with 14 FQHC sites in Pima County. 
  • Western Arizona AHEC, housed in the Regional Center for Border Health in Somerton. 

In fiscal year 2022, the AzAHEC Program, in collaboration with the existing five AHEC Regional Centers in Arizona and nine Rural Health Professions Programs, provided 2,983 community-based experiential training rotations for 1,527 health professions students in Arizona.

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