Teenagers walking hand in handAmerican Indians and Alaska Natives born today have a life expectancy of five and a half years shorter than other race populations in the United States (73.0 years to 78.5 years, respectively). The Partnership to Advance Tribal Health (PATH) team partners with Indian Health Service (IHS) hospitals, tribes, and communities to improve patient outcomes by supporting quality improvement efforts at each service unit site.

Marie Zephier, MPH, community engagement advocate (CEA) for PATH, provides cultural and community insights to enhance relationships among the tribal health entities and members. “As the CEA, I was located at the Great Plains Tribal Chairmen’s Health Board (GPTCHB). Being housed in the building allowed me to increase tribe’s access to the various projects available through the Great Plains Quality Innovation Network (QIN).”

This strong stakeholder engagement further impacts efforts to improve access to care and encourage patients to provide input on their health services and care.

“Through partnership with community-clinical linkage projects, we have initiated various funding opportunities, training, and improved communication for what is occurring at both the Indian Health Service and tribal level. The partnership with various organizations has been essential in allowing these opportunities to happen,” explained Zephier.

Lack of access to healthcare is a main challenge due to health professional shortages and difficulty recruiting providers. Zephier initiated an education effort through the Rosebud Radio Show to promote self-management and health literacy. Currently, the radio show has the ability to reach 12,000 tribal members on the Rosebud Indian reservation and covers a broad range of topics: diabetes, hand washing, vaccinations, cancer screening.  In addition, Zephier implemented a Community Health Needs Assessment to measure patient priorities and allow tribal members to provide input on the care they receive.

According to IHS fact sheets, diseases of the heart, malignant neoplasm, unintentional injuries and diabetes are leading causes of death for American Indian and Alaska Native populations (2009-2011). Zephier also recognized the high rates of intentional self-harm/suicide among the list and connected various stakeholders to apply for funding opportunities that could improve health outcomes for suicide prevention.

Teresa Haatvedt, RN, BSN - Great Plains QIN SD

Teresa Haatvedt

“Having Marie on our South Dakota PATH team has been beneficial when working with the IHS service units.  With the affiliations she has with the Great Plains Tribal Chairmen’s Health Board, she brings many opportunities and knowledge on a variety of topics and programs.  Marie works closely with the tribes, hospitals and communities to develop programs to support the health and well-being of the Native American population,” stated Teresa Haatvedt, BSN, PATH program manager.

The PATH project’s comprehensive approach to health disparities aligns with the Great Plains QIN aims of better healthcare, improved health, safer care and lower healthcare costs: aims leading to the ultimate goal of improved quality and years of life for American Indians in the Great Plains region.

Zephier added, “Being able to work with the various PATH program managers and tribal communities has been a huge honor for me. I have learned so much about quality improvement and effective communication from the various partners involved in this project. The innovation and creativity involved with the work has sincerely been a valuable learning experience for me. I am thankful to be a part of the PATH project.”