Dialogue and education can break down Indigenous barriers to care
Along with the annual celebrations, part of honoring Native American culture at Sanford Health is making sure the community has access to quality health care.
Just ask Scott Davis, a member of the Standing Rock Sioux tribe and descendant of Chippewa’s Turtle Mountain Band. He is the head of Native American Community Outreach at Sanford Health in Bismarck, North Dakota.
He has been in this position for six months, responsible for communicating health care needs to the Native American community and to Sanford Health providers.
Beyond his role in Sanford, he has represented Native American heritage and culture for years.
“I served in the governor’s office as Commissioner of Indian Affairs for 12 years. Three governors and 23 tribal presidents. Obviously, my portfolio and my network covered a lot of health care during this period, ”he explained.
The need for quality health care
During this time, he saw the health issues that Native Americans face and experienced them for himself.
“I’ll use myself for (an) example. I have heart disease. It’s genetic. I’m 52 and never in my wildest dreams would I have thought I had heart disease. I grew up knowing the statistics on Native American men, in particular, the life expectancy was 52 to 55 years old. Growing up, I thought, “I’m going to smoke this.
“There you go, when I was 50, I told my doctor I would like to check my heart, just to make sure. My father had heart disease. My uncle died of it. It’s really widespread. So here I am with this, and I had a heart attack last year when I was 51. (And) I had open heart surgery, bypass surgery, and I thought I was living a pretty healthy lifestyle, ”he said.
He said his story was “just one example” of the health disparities that Native Americans face. Diabetes and cancer are also prevalent.
“Now with COVID, our death rate is four times the average in America, or North or South Dakota, (or) Minnesota. Why so? ”He said.
Native American Health Advocates: Bridging the gap
Ultimately, if you ask Davis, it comes down to a lack of health care.
“As tribal people, tribal leaders, we will always come back to treaty obligations. At that time, our tribal chiefs made treaties, the law of the land, and in the agreement to take our land, they should provide health services as one of them.
“It has been a challenge for the tribal chiefs to really keep their footing on the pedal. Trying to hold Congress and Indian health services accountable for this treaty. Twenty-five years ago, I began to pay attention to it as a young man working for my tribe. Quite frankly, nothing has changed with regard to the statistics. We’re still number one in a lot of those categories, ”said Davis.
A change of mentality
So what could help? If you ask Davis, it’s a change in the way healthcare is viewed.
And he can’t wait to get started.
“How can we look at health care in another light? When it comes to community health, public health, environmental health and even ourselves. This is the challenge here that I am really looking forward to. By working with a company like Sanford, we have the resources. That’s what really, really drew me to come here. We have the resources, ”he said.
Davis will serve as a liaison between the tribes and Sanford Health. As he digged deeper, he realized how Sanford Health can pioneer better health care for Native American communities.
“I kind of peeled the onion off these resources, and wow. We have resources here. Sanford is very happy to associate with tribes, if the tribes want to associate on certain things. Let’s change the mindset on how we can provide better care. Not just when they’re in Bismarck, Fargo, Sioux Falls or Bemidji, but at home, ”Davis said.
“More important to me than anything else, how can we provide better service to our returning tribal people? ” he added.
The first step is a permanent dialogue. And education.
“(It’s) expressing the identity of who we are in a respectful way, also through an educational format. I think we all agree that there has been very bad press. A really, really terrible story written about us that we’re still the bogeyman, ”he said.
In fact, it’s quite the opposite, Davis explained.
“We are a very, very peaceful people. What does the word “Dakota” mean? It makes good sense to us. It means friend. It means ally. It means peace, ”he said.
Davis said that with 10% of Sanford patients being Native Americans, it’s significant that Sanford Health placed importance on Native American representation at leadership levels.
Posted in Bemidji, Bismarck, Community, Fargo, People and Culture, Sioux Falls
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