indianz.com your internet resource indianz.com on facebook indianz.com on twitter indianz.com on Google+ indianz.com on soundcloud
phone: 202 630 8439
Health Coverage for American Indians and Alaska Natives
Advertise on Indianz.Com
Home > News > Headlines
Print   Subscribe
Mark Trahant: Success stories in Indian Country's health system

Filed Under: Health | Opinion | Politics
More on: alaska, anthc, dental, ihcia, ihs, mark trahant, oregon, sovereignty, swinomish, washington
     
   

Brian Cladoosby, the chairman of the Swinomish Tribe, with a young dental patient. Photo from Cladoosby for NCAI / Facebook

#NativeVote16 – Alaska Native success story is an innovation for the states
Just one example of innovation from the Native health system
By Mark Trahant
Trahant Reports
TrahantReports.Com

In the news business, this would be a man bites dog story. That’s the idea that a narrative framework is the opposite of what’s supposed to be. The usual story is that Indian health programs are a disaster and only getting worse. But in the real world if you want to find innovation, efficiency, and ideas that must be borrowed by state governments, then explore some of the many successes found in the Indian health system.

Of course that’s not what we are reading about lately. Most of the news stories about Native health focus on the serious problems in the Great Plains. That indeed is a crisis — and one worth fixing.

But at the same time there are other parts of the Indian health system that are unbelievable success stories.

Consider the data: Just before the Indian Health Care Improvement Act was signed into law in 1976 the average age at death for American Indians and Alaska Natives was 48.3 years. The age at death for White people was 72.3 years. And today? That 20-plus-year difference has been reduced to a gap of less than five years. Today the life expectancy at birth for American Indians and Alaska Natives is 72.3 years, compared to 76.9 for all races.

And that steady progress, imperfect as it is, has been made without the same resources as the general population. Doing more with less is part of the operating framework at tribal health facilities, nonprofits that operate health clinics for a Native community, and, even for the federal Indian Health Service.

The story that still needs to be told is that the U.S. medical system could learn a lot from the Indian health system. The U.S. system is the most expensive in the world, by far, while the Indian health system operates at levels comparable to what other nations spend on health care. Could Indian health use more resources? Absolutely. That’s the frustrating part of the narrative; it’s the option that Congress never seems to consider. (Previous: Paul Ryan’s call for Indian health ‘choices’ would be a disaster.)

So with that context let’s celebrate a success story with roots from the Alaska Native medical experience.

Last week Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin signed into law a bill that licenses dental therapy in Vermont. Therapists are midlevel providers who will provide dental procedures such as fillings and simple extractions. “This is important because there’s a direct connection between oral health and overall health,” the governor said. “Having dental therapists available to work with dentists and hygienists will make it easier for Vermonters to get the care they need, closer to home and no matter what type of insurance they have.”

More than a decade ago the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium experimented with a program to train midlevel oral health providers. It was a community-based program to serve a need because too few dentists were practicing in remote Alaska Native villages.

Almost immediately this was an “aha!” moment as other communities saw this as a smart way to expand dental access. Dental therapy students were hired and trained right out of high school and then were put right to work.

But the innovation was followed by a fight. The American Dental Association sued trying to stop this program, saying that the midlevel providers were practicing dentistry without a license. The Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium fought back and won, using the Indian Self-Determination Act and the Indian Health Care Improvement Act to trump the state’s licensing regulations.

The data today is clear. The program has been spectacularly successful providing routine dental care to some 40,000 patients every year. As the Pew Charitable Trusts wrote: “Evidence is growing that expanding the dental team to include midlevel providers, often called dental therapists, helps dentists build their businesses while increasing access to high-quality, cost-effective care. A 2014 report from the Minnesota Board of Dentistry and Department of Health evaluated the impact of these providers and found that they expand access to care for vulnerable populations and improve the efficiency of clinics and dental offices.”

Across the country, both in Indian Country, and now in states, the idea of a midlevel dental practice is expanding.

Last summer at the National Congress of American Indians, Brian Cladoosby, Chairman of the Swinomish Indian Tribal Community, and president of NCAI, said the tribe would expand dental health therapy using its own sovereign regulatory structure. In recent months tribes in Oregon began their own pilot program to train dental therapists.

This innovation is the future. It expands dental care as well as opportunity for young people who want a career in dental health. It’s important to tell the story and its roots with the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium.

Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis once called states “the laboratories of democracy.” Tribes, and intertribal organizations, then, might be first test labs.

Mark Trahant is the Charles R. Johnson Endowed Professor of Journalism at the University of North Dakota. He is an independent journalist and a member of the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes. To read more of his regular #NativeVote16 updates, follow trahantreports.com On Facebook: TrahantReports On Twitter: @TrahantReports.


Copyright © Indianz.Com
More headlines...
Stay Connected:
On Facebook

On Twitter

On Google+

On SoundCloud
Local Links:
Federal Register | Indian Gaming | Jobs & Notices | In The Hoop | Message Board
Latest News:
Tribes find common ground with Trump on Supreme Court nominee (2/17)
Bureau of Indian Affairs issues 'trespass' notice to #NoDAPL camp (2/17)
Hearing on injunction against Dakota Access moved to February 28 (2/17)
Native Sun News Today: Drilling test in treaty territory stirs concern (2/17)
Editorial: Presidents on Mount Rushmore didn't treat tribes so well (2/17)
Native women pushing for action on missing and murdered sisters (2/16)
Army Department formally cancels Dakota Access Pipeline review (2/16)
Native Sun News Today: Dakota Access firms see spills, explosions (2/16)
James Giago Davies: Tribes face bigger threat than Dakota Access (2/16)
Cronkite News: Navajo school official worried about Trump era cuts (2/16)
Monte Mills: Tribes turn to courts to battle Dakota Access Pipeline (2/16)
Steven Newcomb: Dakota Access marks growth of imperial empire (2/16)
Vena A-dae Romero: Bringing our tribes out of obesity & diabetes (2/16)
Gyasi Ross: Native and African people share history of resistance (2/16)
Mohegan Tribe announces resignation of top gaming executive (2/16)
Jena Band of Choctaw Indians secures funding for casino hotel (2/16)
Standing Rock leader vows to 'forgive' after White House slight (2/15)
Native women host briefing on missing, murdered women & girls (2/15)
Native Sun News Today: Vic Runnels was an artist for all seasons (2/15)
Native Sun News Today: Rapid City rivals in crosstown showdown (2/15)
Freedom Socialist: Voices from water protectors at Standing Rock (2/15)
Tribal leaders hear dueling messages on Indian health in Trump era (2/14)
New leader of key House panel defends handling of Dakota Access (2/14)
Republican lawmaker renews push for Tribal Labor Sovereignty Act (2/14)
Mark Trahant: Another Native woman aims to make history at polls (2/14)
Native Sun News Today: Indian lawmakers invited to cracker barrel (2/14)
Clara Caufield: Northern Cheyenne Tribe comes together for health (2/14)
Dakota Access ready to start transporting oil sooner than expected (2/13)
More tribes join effort to halt completion of Dakota Access Pipeline (2/13)
Army Corps gave go ahead to Dakota Access Pipeline in key memo (2/13)
First State of Indian Nations address in the new Donald Trump era (2/13)
Donald Trump's Cabinet growing with more anti-Indian advocates (2/13)
Tim Giago: A reservation boarding school teacher I'll never forget (2/13)
Mark Trahant: Battle over Dakota Access Pipeline is far from over (2/13)
Native Sun News Today: Wambli Ska keeps culture alive for youth (2/13)
Victor Swallow: Oglala Sioux family remains connected to the land (2/13)
more headlines...

Home | Arts & Entertainment | Business | Canada | Cobell Lawsuit | Education | Environment | Federal Recognition | Federal Register | Forum | Health | Humor | Indian Gaming | Indian Trust | Jack Abramoff Scandal | Jobs & Notices | Law | National | News | Opinion | Politics | Sports | Technology | World

Indianz.Com Terms of Service | Indianz.Com Privacy Policy
About Indianz.Com | Advertise on Indianz.Com

Indianz.Com is a product of Noble Savage Media, LLC and Ho-Chunk, Inc.