Center of Service
As Matt Probst prepares to tuck into a hot plate of chile rellenos at his favorite lunch spot, one person after another stops by his table to say hello and to shake his hand. It seems like every other patron of Charlie’s Spic and Span counts him as a close friend.
A regular at the Las Vegas, N.M., landmark, Probst is popular with his neighbors for helping to bring quality team-based primary care to the community. The 2003 graduate of UNM’s Physician Assistant program is chief quality officer and medical director for El Centro Family Health, a network of family practice clinics with 26 locations in 14 northern New Mexico communities.
El Centro’s patient care workforce includes MDs, PAs, nurse practitioners, behavioral health specialists and dental providers. “I put in this ‘team-based care’ model before it was even a thing,” he says. “It’s the ‘better together’ approach that I learned at UNM.”
El Centro serves 20,000 patients in seven counties spread over 22,000 square miles – an area about the size of West Virginia. But the sprawling service area doesn’t faze Probst, who grew up in Tierra Amarilla and Nambé. “I just think of northern New Mexico as one big community.”
Probst and two of his colleagues are the subjects of “The Providers,” a documentary set to air nationally next spring on PBS. “They followed me around for three years and filmed my life,” he says. “My life was crazy. They captured a lot of that – the disparities that are part of Northern New Mexico, that are part of me and part of my family.”
Probst, whose father was a wood-carving santero, started out as an art student with the aim of becoming a muralist. When he apprenticed under fresco artist Frederico Vigil, his mentor warned him that if he pursued an art career and wanted to support a family he’d need a day job with a regular paycheck.
Probst wound up snagging three community college associate’s degrees in biology, exercise science and fine art before deciding to attend UNM’s PA program. He lived near his elderly parents in Santa Fe and commuted to Albuquerque while earning his bachelor’s degree and working part-time as a personal trainer.
The program’s training involved problem-based learning, with PA students attending lectures alongside medical students, Probst says. He did some of his clinical rotations in Las Vegas and at the Santa Fe Indian Hospital, and he wound up taking a job at El Centro after he graduated.
Probst starts each day by asking how he can best serve his patients. “Health care is about relationships – and it’s about people and taking care of people and how we treat people,” he says. “It doesn’t matter whether you can pay, how you smell, or what kind of issues you’re going through. We’ll take care of you. That’s what El Centro has become.”