TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – Since its 2009 inception, several of the 41 W.W. Hastings Hospital Surgical Technology Program graduates have returned to the Cherokee Nation, committed to helping provide fellow Cherokees health care.
One graduate is Rochelle Lewis, a certified surgical technologist who completed the program in 2011. She spent four years at Northeastern Health Systems, formerly Tahlequah City Hospital, before returning in 2015 to teach the program.
“I think it’s imperative for me to be able to go back and help my fellow Cherokees, to be there in a time where they are most vulnerable,” Lewis said. “We are the eagle eye to make sure that a patient has the most healthy outcome possible. I think being able to do that for fellow Cherokees is a great responsibility and a great privilege.”
The CST’s responsibilities are providing patient support in the operating room, gathering operating supplies, keeping count of supplies used, overseeing the operating room’s sterilization and handing surgeons surgical tools.
The program is 9-1/2 months and conducts two classes annually. Each class admits five students.
“It’s really nice to have that size of class,” Lewis said. “If they get into this program, it’s an extreme privilege because of how hard it is to get in. We don’t have a lot of space, but we get lots of one-on-one with them.”
Entrance is based upon points earned by taking a dexterity test, completing an entrance exam, writing an essay, completing a personal interview and attending a skills lab “boot camp.”
Once admitted, students earn a $7.25 hourly stipend and spend the first five months in the classroom before moving to clinicals. During clinicals, they see patients at 10 sites in Oklahoma and Arkansas for two to three weeks at each site.
“When they go to clinicals, the first day we say to them ‘you can watch one surgery to get the feel of it,’ and then we expect them to start being as hands on as possible,” Lewis said. “They should be scrubbing in and setting up cases the first week. For accreditation they have to get so many cases in different specialties.”
The final month is spent preparing for the national certification exam, which is four hours and has 200 questions. To become certified, 118 questions must be answered correctly.
“You need to be dedicated,” Cheryl Gullett, a fellow CST and program instructor, said. “This has to be a number one priority. Students have to treat it as a job, if not a little more seriously.”
Gullett graduated in 2010 and worked for Northeastern Health Systems and St. John’s Hospital before returning to instruct in 2015.
She said the program’s financial impact on graduates is also important.
“I think the program in general is an amazing thing because you’re not only providing health care to people, but you’re providing a substantial amount of income to yourself,” Gullett said. “When these students graduate, they have a job that can provide for their families. You don’t need subsidies to help you survive anymore.”
That was the case for CN citizen Baron O’Field, a CST who graduated in 2013.
“Before I was a surgical tech, I worked as an intern for the Cherokee Nation,” he said. “I was in that position for about three years, so there was really no place for me to advance. I was kind of just stuck at that minimum wage gap.”
When O’Field neared graduation, he had job offers from Northeastern Health Systems and Hastings, where he worked for nearly two years before working as a traveling CST.
“It was a great experience to leave and come back and share some of my knowledge. I think it has helped me a lot. Situations that I would have gotten into early on in my career here, I would have been nervous and kind of intimidated. Now, it’s not that big of a deal,” he said.
He said his time as a traveling CST in Missouri, Kansas and Ohio also helped illustrate the need for more Native Americans in health careers.
“I know whenever I left I never came across another Cherokee as a traveler, or just another Native American period,” he said. “I know I did go to a place where there was a high population of Native Americans, but I never bumped into (a CST).”
As the profession grows, O’Field hopes more Cherokees will serve in it. “If you have a good work ethic and you’re willing to learn and adapt, I think any hospital in America is going to hire you.”
For more information, call Patricia Sumner at 918-453-5000, ext. 4186 or Lewis at 918-453-5000, ext. 4178.
MUSKOGEE, Okla. – Eating healthy on a tight budget is a possibility for families if they make minor changes in the way they shop, plan and cook meals.
Many people believe they can’t eat healthy on a budget, but that’s not true, Denise Goss, clinical dietitian and dietician advisor at the Three Rivers Health Center, said.
“One of the big things is for people to plan ahead,” she said. “Don’t go into the grocery store without making a grocery list first and planning out the meals for the week.”
She said people tend to make “impulse buys” when they don’t make grocery lists and stick to them.
“They’ll spend more on food than they actually need,” Goss said. “A lot of times they’ll buy extra things like pop, chips and cookies. Those types of things aren’t nutritious but do cost a lot and add up on that grocery bill.”
Shopping for generic brands of commonly used groceries is another way to save money.
“They’re going to be less expensive and have just as much as far as quality goes as brand names,” she said.
Purchasing fruits and vegetables – the staples of a healthy diet and meal – in season will save money, too.
“If you can’t get them in season, do the canned or frozen,” Goss said.
If vegetables must be bought canned, she advised rinsing them in water before cooking to get rid of the extra sodium from the canning process. Canned fruits should also be rinsed to rid the syrups and sugars.
In the summer, people can shop at local farmers markets to buy locally grown produce, which is fresher than store produce.
“When you can, buy locally,” she said. “Farmers markets are great. They are a great resource for people because usually they’re going to be fresher and they don’t have to worry about what’s on them, like pesticides.”
Or better yet, growing a garden to get those fruits and vegetables is another option, Goss said.
Another money-saving tip is to clip coupons from the newspaper.
“Look at the sales ads in the newspaper and plan your menus around those sale items,” she said. “Clip coupons for items they’d normally purchase, and don’t clip the ones on items they don’t usually buy.”
Making meals from scratch is cheaper and healthier than making boxed meals, she said. Some meals to make from scratch include beans, stew or chili, which can be prepared in large quantities then reheated later for another dinner or lunches. These meals also allow for beans as meat substitutes, which is cheaper.
“Try using beans in recipes for a protein source instead of meat,” she said. “(Use) half and half – half beans and meat – for chili or tacos to save a little bit of money, too.”
Shoppers can also buy their items in bulk sizes, which allows a larger quantity of product for a cheaper price than buying several small quantities, she said. Some of those include pasta, dried beans, generic bagged cereals and meat, which can be frozen in smaller portions for future meals.
Also, allowing the children to help plan the menu, shop and prepare meals will get them excited about eating healthier, Goss said.
“Have a family fun night where they pick out a healthy recipe they want to have one night, and let them help,” she said. “Let them be a part of it when you’re planning your menu for the week, and ask them what they want for the week. Have a list of meals for the week. Kids like that.”
<strong>Plan ahead:</strong> Plan a menu at the beginning of each week. Then make a grocery list before shopping. Planning ahead helps save money so you’re not wandering around the grocery store randomly throwing items into the cart.
<strong>Don’t impulse buy: </strong> Stick to the list. Don’t shop while you’re hungry and don’t throw in soda, chips and cookies as you’re waiting in the checkout line.
<strong>Look for generic brands:</strong> Generic store brands are considerably cheaper than name brand grocery items yet have the same quality. The savings begin to add up when you buy generic brands each shopping trip.
<strong>Buy fruits and vegetables in-season:</strong> In-season fruits and vegetables are less expensive. Also, shop local farmers market to get fresh produce at cheaper prices.
<strong>Clip coupons:</strong> Clipping coupons may sound tedious, but the money saved is worth it. But only clip and use coupons on items you normally buy.
<strong>Buy in bulk:</strong> Purchasing meats, cereal, flour and other items in bulk can save money, and you won’t have to shop for those items as often. If you buy meats in bulk sizes, freeze them in sizes you can defrost and use later.
<strong>Sneak in some fruits and vegetables:</strong> It’s possible to sneak in fruits and vegetables during the day, even while sitting at work. Pack an apple or banana with your lunch or pack raw carrots or broccoli in small portions. Vegetables can even be dipped in low-fat dressing for added taste.
<strong>Let the kids help:</strong> Let the kids help plan the menu. If they’ve helped decide what meals they want, they’ll be more likely to eat it. Let the older children help prepare meals by cutting vegetables and other tasks, and let the younger kids help set the table.
CLAREMORE, Okla. – Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Oklahoma will be at the Claremore Indian Hospital on July 20 to assist patients with signing up for free to low-cost health insurance through the Affordable Care Act.
The insurance company will be in Conference Room 2 from 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. to help people sign up for health insurance.
“We will be hosting another ACA Outreach and Enrollment Fair here at Claremore,” Sheila Dishno, patient benefit coordinator, said. “Even though members of federally recognized tribes have a special monthly enrollment status, it is important for American Indian and Alaska Native individuals and families to learn about their insurance options. Whether it’s purchasing insurance through the Marketplace or qualifying for SoonerCare, knowing that you have quality coverage provides peace of mind.”
Dishno said people who attend the fair should bring their Social Security cards, pay stubs, W-2 forms or wage and tax statements, policy numbers for any current health insurance and information about any health insurance they or their families could get from an employer.
The minimum income guidelines for households are as follows:
• 1-person: $11,880
• 2-person: $16,020
• 3-person: $20,160
• 4-person: $24,300
• 5-person: $28,440
• 6-person: $32,580
• 7-person: $36,730
• 8-person: $40,890
The hospital is located at 101 S. Moore Ave. For more information, call 918-342-6240, 918-342-6559 or 918-342-6507.
PHOENIX (AP) — Dena Wilson never doubted what she wanted to do with her life while growing up on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota.
Her mother worked at the Indian Health Service as a social worker, and aside from a brief desire to be a bird in kindergarten, Wilson knew she wanted to become a doctor.
Wilson attended Chadron State College in Nebraska and then the University of Washington for medical school. After that, she pursued a cardiology fellowship at the University of Arizona’s medical center, and she worked for a Native cardiology program in Northern Arizona before coming to Phoenix to work for the IHS.
“Just growing up, receiving care in the Indian Health Service, knowing there was such a shortage, and never seeing any other Native providers, this was something I wanted to do,” Wilson said.
Wilson belongs to an exclusive club. Not only is she the lone cardiologist working for the IHS in Phoenix, but she’s also Native American, a citizen of the Oglala Lakota Sioux tribe.
Of the nearly 19,000 graduates of medical school last year in the U.S., only 31 were Native American. Here in Arizona, there’s an estimated 13,542 physicians statewide, and only 107 were Native American – that’s less than 1 percent, according to a database by the Association of American Medical Colleges using 2013 numbers.
Experts said the shortage of Native American doctors is concerning because it impacts the effectiveness of health care delivery overall, as well as the research into health disparities.
Historically, Native Americans have faced more health problems when compared with other Americans.
Native Americans die at higher rates in several categories, including chronic liver disease, diabetes and chronic lower respiratory disease, and they have a life expectancy rate 4.4 years less than all other U.S. races, according to the IHS.
The IHS, which provides health services to about 2.2 million of the nation’s estimated 3.7 million Native Americans, suffers from serious staff shortages. Earlier this year, the Government Accountability Office added it and other Native American programs to the “high-risk” list, meaning it’s viewed as highly vulnerable to fraud, waste, abuse and mismanagement.
But how do these disparities in health outcomes relate to a lack of Native American physicians?
“A lot of people think why should that matter?” said Dr. Lukejohn Day, the director of clinical gastroenterology at Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital and an associate professor of medicine at the University California, San Francisco. Day also is an Oglala Lakota citizen.
“What a lot of studies have shown is a diverse health care workforce supplies better provider patient communication, follow ups and treatment adherence,” Day said. “Also, what we’ve seen is the more diverse a workforce is, the more research there is on health care disparities.”
And then there’s the “people” part of the equation.
“People tend to comply better when they feel their physicians have a better understanding of who they are and where they come from,” said Dr. Mary Owen, director of the Center of American Indian and Minority Health at the University of Minnesota Duluth campus.
Owen, who also serves on the board of directors for the Association of American Indian Physicians, added that people from diverse backgrounds are more likely to go back and serve in those communities.
“What I try to provide to my patients is a familiarity and understanding of their day-to-day challenges,” said Wilson, the doctor from the Phoenix IHS. “I grew up on the reservation, and I understand that just going to the grocery store to get healthy ingredients to make a healthy meal is a challenge sometimes.”
From 2012-16, of the nearly 55,000 medical school graduates in the U.S., only 101 were Native American, according to the Association of American Medical Colleges.
Owen said there are a lot of reasons why Native Americans don’t go into medicine.
“To get into medicine requires so many different pieces of a puzzle to come together,” Owen said. “It requires a strong background in science and math, strong communication skills and societal awareness. Pulling all those together from a group of people that have had trauma as long as we have. We don’t have all the resources that other people take for granted in medicine.”
Owen said officials and community leaders need to make improvements to elementary and high school education for Native Americans, and they need to reach out earlier to Native students.
Day echoed a similar sentiment.
“If you are hitting them in college and medical school, it might be too late,” he said. “Reach out at the high school and junior high level, and I think that makes a much bigger difference.”
Another challenge exists in the medical school selection process.
Owen said medical schools have a tendency to focus on things like test scores instead of recognizing what a candidate brings to the table that’s not reflected on an application.
Wilson said while her medical school did a great job recognizing the strengths she cultivated through her upbringing, she said the fixation on test scores can be a real problem.
“It’s not just about knowledge,” Wilson said. “Yeah, you have to have knowledge, I’m not saying everyone can get into med school and become a doctor. But just because you didn’t score the highest on your MCATs doesn’t mean you should be excluded.”
Then there’s the fact that just getting into medical school isn’t enough. To survive, one needs a lot of support.
Wilson said one of her biggest challenges was dealing with loneliness. Not only was she a woman in a male-dominated specialty, but she also was a minority. She said running into another Native American was rare.
“For me, sometimes just going home and being back home with my community, I needed that to recharge my batteries,” Wilson said.
Despite the obstacles, Owen said she is optimistic that more Native American physicians will soon enter the fold, but she added that medical schools must look at students in a more holistic fashion.
“All these states should have a much higher number,” she said.
Locally, the University of Arizona is trying to do its part.
There are 23 American Indian students enrolled at the University of Arizona’s two college of medicine programs in Tucson and Phoenix, according to the university.
Additionally, the school also has programs aimed at recruiting and preparing Native students for a career in medicine. These include a pre-admissions workshop with the Association of American Indian Physicians, the Indians Into Medicine grant from the IHS, and the Navajo Nation Future Physicians’ Scholarship Fund, which helps up to seven Navajo scholars per year pursue a medical degree from the university.
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. — Thousands of Cherokee Nation citizens across the tribe’s 14-county jurisdiction are changing their lives through a dietary program.
Offered at all CN health centers and W.W. Hastings Hospital, the program helped 6,482 citizens with weight management, high cholesterol, pre-diabetes and gestational diabetes in fiscal year 2016.
CN citizen Kevin Hannah is a participant and has lost 100 pounds during his time in the program.
“When I came for the first appointment, I was just fulfilling doctor’s orders and I couldn’t care less about any of it. Meeting with clinical dietitian Jennifer Newton at Three Rivers Health Center in Muskogee changed my perception, and it changed my life,” Hannah said.
After one year of working with Newton through the dietary program, Hannah, a pre-diabetic patient, has decreased his weight, cholesterol and blood sugar levels and describes his experience as life-changing.
“I want everyone to know that they can change their lives. I’ve been there. It’s depressing, and talking to someone who cared about me and about my success gave me the motivation to get up and try,” Hannah said. “Desire and information are the keys to success.”
Newton’s focus for her patients is setting small goals and sustainable changes.
“We always start by walking through what they’re already doing and encourage small, gradual changes that they can sustain long term,” Newton said.
Lisa Burton, a dietary patient from the Cooweescoowee Health Center in Ochelata, is experiencing similar success in the program.
“I started back in July and have noticed a big difference in my energy level already,” Burton said. “I have lost 70 pounds, and I plan to keep it up. Having the support and someone to watch over me and make sure I am doing what I am supposed to is making all the difference.”
Patients who seek dietary help complete a screening process and are matched with a dietitian to work one-on-one through their eating and exercise needs.
Dietitian adviser Denise Goss oversees the program through CN health centers. She said CN dietitians can teach tribal citizens to make healthy lifestyle choices to enhance their quality of life.
“We provide valuable support by offering frequent follow-up visits and the encouragement and tools needed to reach their goals,” Goss said.
To find a health center near you with the dietary program, visit <a href="http://www.cherokee.org/Services/Health/Health-Centers-Hospitals" target="_blank">http://www.cherokee.org/Services/Health/Health-Centers-Hospitals</a>.
ANCHORAGE, Alaska – Cherokee Nation Health Services recently received the Public Health Innovation Award from the National Indian Health Board at a national conference in June.
The Public Health Innovation Award is given annually to the tribal government, individual, organization or program that best exemplifies the advancement of public health for Native Americans and Alaskan Natives.
The tribe was recognized for its efforts at the eighth annual National Tribal Public Health Summit in Anchorage.
“Cherokee Nation Health Services strives to be a leader in health care throughout Indian Country,” Connie Davis, CNHS executive director, said. “On behalf of our Cherokee Nation Health Services employees, I thank the National Indian Health Board for this honor. It’s truly humbling for our team to receive this recognition, and I commend each and every one of our employees who make Cherokee Nation Health Services a first-class department.”
The tribe’s Public Health department educates citizens on healthy eating and exercise habits, and also addresses common challenges such as alcohol and tobacco use awareness within the tribe.
Senior Director of Public Health Lisa Pivec accepted the award and spoke about building public health infrastructure.
“The most rewarding aspect of the recognition is knowing we are honoring those who have gone before us to ensure we have this great Cherokee Nation to protect and preserve,” Pivec said. “I believe that any successes are the result of the work of so many citizens over the years, people devoted to paving the way for our next generations.”
In 2016, Pivec was also recognized by the NIHB with its area impact award. The award highlighted her impact on the tribe’s growing public health program since 1994, when Pivec helped start the tribe’s Healthy Nation program.
“Lisa led the development of public health at Cherokee Nation from its infancy, and the tribal nation is now the first Public Health Accreditation Board-accredited tribal public health system,” the NIHB said in a statement about the nomination. “Now, Cherokee citizens consider the vast number of prevention programs she developed as a part of their daily activities. Along with her staff, Lisa has created great changes in health among the Cherokee people she serves.”
In addition to presenting awards for public health innovation and area impact, the NIHB works with tribes on advocacy, training and legislation to better Native health care.
“Public health is about addressing the social determinants of health and strengthening the environments where we live, work, play, learn and worship,” Pivec said. “I have been blessed to have had the opportunity to serve and do work that doesn’t feel like a job but more like a life purpose.”