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‘It’s not paper, it’s people,’ Marillac pediatrician says

A profile of Dr. Tarpey -- why she became a pediatrician and what drew her to Marillac Clinic from the Grand Junction Daily Sentinel

Grand Junction Daily Sentinel:  March 13, 2016By Melinda Mawdsley 

Dr. Moriah Tarpey
Dr. Moriah Tarpey is Marillac Clinic’s first pediatrician. “Every day here, I feel like there’s at least one person who I can look at and say, ‘This is the reason I’m here today,’” Tarpey said.

Amber Barnett
Amber Barnett holds her 11-month-old son Malakai Nelson during an appointment with Dr. Moriah Tarpey at Marillac Clinic, 2333 N. Sixth St. Tarpey is the clinic’s first pediatrician.

Dr. Moriah Tarpey 2
Dr. Moriah Tarpey, left, talks with first time parents Amber Barnett and Richard Nelson after an appointment for their 11-month-old son, Malakai. Pediatrics is “an area of medicine where there’s hope for change in the future,” Tarpey says.

 Malakai Nelson just woke up from a nap. He wasn’t much in the mood for games.

Eventually, however, as Dr. Moriah Tarpey checked the 11-month-old’s vision with what looked like a colorful wand, Malakai came out of his post-sleep haze and grabbed it.

“How is he doing with language?” Tarpey asked Malakai’s parents, Amber Barnett and Richard Nelson, while Malakai sat on his mother’s lap playing.

“He says, ‘dada’ a lot,” Barnett said.

“I just love his chubby marshmallow hands,” Tarpey said sweetly, looking into Malakai’s eyes.

Speaking of baby weight, Barnett and Nelson had some questions for Tarpey about introducing cow’s milk.

Should they give their chubby baby whole milk? Should they warm it up?

“They ask detailed questions,” Tarpey said with a smile. “I love that.”

Don’t worry about baby weight, Tarpey assured first-time parents Barnett and Nelson. Babies need the fat of whole milk for brain development. Once Malakai’s mobility increases, he’ll lose weight.

As for milk temperature? Pay attention to what he likes. Some babies dislike cold cow’s milk as they transition from breast milk or formula, Tarpey said.

“She’s very honest,” Nelson said. “I love that about her. If she doesn’t know something, she’ll figure it out for you.”

Tarpey, 38, has been Malakai’s pediatrician for months but practiced as a pediatrician in the Grand Valley for nearly seven years. In 2015, she joined Marillac Clinic, 2333 N. Sixth St., after it was named a Federally Qualified Community Health Center, paving the way for the facility to see more children for medical visits.

Marillac Clinic’s new focus to care for people from birth (and even before with prenatal visits) to death came at the perfect time for Tarpey, who as recently as 2014 was in talks to start a local, nonprofit clinic for children in the same model as the Church Health Center based in Memphis, Tennessee.

Tarpey did her residency in Memphis and became familiar with the center’s mission offering quality, affordable health care for working, uninsured people and their families. The center is one of the largest faith-based health care organizations of its type in the United States, according to

Tarpey reached out to the center for advice and guidance on starting a replication clinic in Grand Junction. She even learned about a funding company in Texas.

With changes to the Affordable Care Act, however, Tarpey’s funding was put on hold in January 2015. She wanted to serve the uninsured or under-insured people of western Colorado but was left wondering how.

Then she received a phone call from Dr. John Whiteside, the chief medical officer at Marillac Clinic. He told Tarpey the local clinic, which up until that point had only served uninsured and under-insured adults, was looking to expand services into prenatal, obstetrics and pediatrics.

Would she be interested in coming on board as the clinic’s first pediatrician?

“I wanted to know if I even needed to interview,” Tarpey joked.

Tarpey’s desire to serve the working poor dates back to her childhood in rural Illinois as the daughter of Jim and Marsha Heyen. Her father was an auto mechanic who taught vocational classes for teenagers who weren’t bound for college. Her mother was a Macoupin County public health worker.

Her parents both showed compassion and love toward everyone they worked with, qualities Tarpey admired.

“It was in my awareness as a kid there was a lot of poverty surrounding us, and we weren’t too far from it either,” she said.

When Tarpey enrolled at St. Louis University, a Jesuit university in Missouri, she was interested in both the sciences and theology.

When she took a nurse assistant position as a side job during college, however, Tarpey was exposed to the importance of quality paPhotos by CHRISTOPHER TOMLINSON/The Daily Sentinel

Dr. Moriah Tarpey is Marillac Clinic’s first pediatrician. “Every day here, I feel like there’s at least one person who I can look at and say, ‘This is the reason I’m here today,’ ” Tarpey said.tient care for all demographics.

“I feel like so many physicians end up in medical school and haven’t actually touched a person and done the work they order,” Tarpey said.

Midway through her undergraduate time at St. Louis University, she declared her major as pre-med and was eventually accepted to five medical schools, selecting St. Louis University but deferring enrollment for a year so she could drive her grandmother to chemotherapy.

Her grandmother would introduce Tarpey to people as “Moriah, my granddaughter who’s going to be a doctor.”

“Seeing that perspective as a patient and family, I realized how important it was to have a good bedside manner,” Tarpey said.

When Tarpey started medical school in 2001, she was drawn to pediatrics thanks to the top-notch pediatricians she was surrounded by while working at Cardinal Glennon Children’s Hospital, a St. Louis-based hospital that serves the poor as part of its mission.

In 2005, she became Dr. Moriah Tarpey, just as her grandmother foretold.

While in medical school, Tarpey met her eventual husband, Dr. Jeffrey Tarpey. They both moved to Memphis for residency.

“When my husband was like 8 years old, he used to come out to Ouray from Chicago,” Tarpey said. “There was a point where he met the mayor of the town who asked him, ‘What do you want to do when you grow up?’ Jeff wanted to be a doctor and the mayor said he could be a doctor in Ouray, Colorado. He set his sights on that.”

While in Memphis, they looked for a community close to Ouray that could support two physicians.

Grand Junction, it was.

In 2009, Jeffrey Tarpey was offered a hospitalist position at St. Mary’s Hospital, and Moriah Tarpey moved into private practice, taking a position at Dino Peds, where she saw for the first time the business-side of primary care.

After a couple years, the couple’s second son, Sean, arrived, joining his older brother, Liam, who was born in Memphis. The boys are now 4 and 8.

Tarpey then moved to Western Colorado Pediatric Associates.

However, after the couple’s third son, Finn, arrived — he’s now 2 — Tarpey quickly realized the strain her work was putting on the family.

“My little guy wouldn’t eat,” she said. “I realized I wasn’t where I needed to be.”

Tarpey left private practice in February 2014 to take care of her boys, and, as Finn grew up a bit, her desire to resume medical practice also grew.

That’s when plans fell through for the children’s clinic, which led her to Marillac Clinic.

“Every day here, I feel like there’s at least one person who I can look at and say, ‘This is the reason I’m here today,’ ” Tarpey said. “I feel like the mission of this office and this group is apparent in everything we do. I’ve never worked in a setting like that before. The focus is service. It’s not paper, it’s people.”

Whiteside said the decision to hire Tarpey was an easy one.

“She’s an experienced pediatrician,” he said. “In doctor speak, from a hiring perspective, first, she comes from a good school and has excellent training. Second, is her passion for serving the under-served.”

In Tarpey’s experience, children are some of the most vulnerable patients in need of quality care, particularly children living at or below the poverty line. Emergency rooms are not a place to track a child’s development. That’s what she’s for, Tarpey said.

“She spends quite a bit of time talking to her patients and gets down to the bottom of patient concerns,” said Tania Acevedo, Tarpey’s medical assistant at Marillac Clinic. “She doesn’t just go in and say, ‘What do you want today?’ We have tough patients, and she manages to pull it off with a smile. She’s amazing.”

Tarpey is accepting new patients and is in the office from 
8 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday through Friday. She wants to build a rapport with parents so they feel comfortable enough to ask questions and don’t hesitate to bring children in for routine dental check-ups, eye exams and childhood wellness check-ups no matter their income.

Pediatrics is “an area of medicine where there’s hope for change in the future,” Tarpey said when discussing the value of getting youth of all income levels on healthy lifestyle tracks. “I knew I wanted to end up in the nonprofit world at some point. Every stepping stone has been toward this opportunity. Even growing up, that’s what I saw my parents do. They had a heart for people less fortunate. I’ve never felt so blessed, honestly.”