Health | National

Indian Health Service asks tribes about community health aides






Dental health aide therapists in Alaska have been successfully providing services to rural Native villages since 2006. Photo from Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium / Facebook

A program that has proven successful in Alaska is poised to become a nationwide model within the Indian Health Service.

The community health aide program was created to address the unique concerns of remote and rural Native villages in Alaska. The most prominent examples are the dental therapists who provide key services that would otherwise not be available to local residents.

The IHS is hoping to build on that success by expanding the community health aide program throughout Indian Country. Tribes are being asked for their views on a draft policy that could bring more services to their members.

"Community health aides are proven partners, and utilizing them to the fullest extent permissible in hospitals and clinics operated by the IHS and Tribes will increase the availability of health workers in American Indian and Alaska Native communities," Mary Smith, the acting director of the agency, wrote in a Dear Tribal Leader letter on Wednesday.

Dental care isn't the only area that could see a boost if the program goes national. Additional community health representatives and behavioral health aides could be trained and certified as part of the effort.

"Increasing the use of community health aides is part of IHS's ongoing work to provide quality health care to patients, who are our first priority," Smith said in a press release.

The IHS is requesting comments to be submitted by July 26. They can be emailed to consultation@ihs.gov with the subject line IHS Expansion of Community Health Aide Program Draft Policy Statement" or mailed to:
Alec Thundercloud, M.D.
Director, Office of Clinical and Preventive Services Indian Health Service
5600 Fishers Lane Mail Stop: 08N34-A
Rockville, MD 20857
ATTN: IHS Expansion of Community Health Aide Program Draft Policy Statement Consultation

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