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:
Craig Tribal Association celebrates 'historic' trust land acquisition (1/16)
Mark Trahant: Congress moves forward with repeal of Obamacare (1/16)
Native Sun News Today: Northern Cheyenne banker beats the odds (1/16)
James Giago Davies: The real power to defeat the Wasicu pipeline (1/16)
Tiffany Midge: Hollywood needs to stop stereotyping Native people (1/16)
Peter d'Errico: New book connects Native America with Palestine (1/16)
Alaska tribe makes history with approval of trust land application (1/13)
Mille Lacs Band divests from bank over Dakota Access financing (1/13)
Navajo Code Talkers participate in presidential inaugural parade (1/13)
Native Sun News Today: Uranium expansion by sacred site halted (1/13)
Clara Caufield: Commemorating the outbreak from Fort Robinson (1/13)
Terese Mailhot: Paying tribute to my brother & my protector Guy (1/13)
Steven Newcomb: It's been 130 years of taking indigenous lands (1/13)
Trump's Energy nominee vows to stay away from Dakota Access (1/12)
Native Sun News Today: Legal fight continues over Dakota Access (1/12)
Ivan Star Comes Out: We must speak Lakota to keep it from dying (1/12)
Bad River Band calls for removal of aging pipeline on reservation (1/12)
Bill requires tribal consent for Yucca Mountain nuclear waste site (1/12)
California county approves limits on marijuana near tribal lands (1/12)
North Dakota tribe threatens to walk away from energy tax deal (1/12)
American Bar Association honors prominent Indian law attorney (1/12)
Tribal opposition leads to delay on status of Yellowstone grizzly (1/12)
Citizen Potawatomi Nation security guard brought gun to casino (1/12)
Cowlitz Tribe hosts job far as opening date for casino approaches (1/12)
Trump's Justice choice leaves door open to fight tribal jurisdiction (1/11)
Native women join historic march in DC after Trump's inauguration (1/11)
Cobell scholarship fund grows to $47M thanks to buy-back effort (1/11)
Alaska Native village still seeking approval for 'life-saving road' (1/11)
Confirmation hearing delayed for Donald Trump's Education pick (1/11)
Native Sun News Today: Peltier prosecutor supports clemency bid (1/11)
Steven Newcomb: Our indigenous nations were never conquered (1/11)
Peter d'Errico: United States refuses to acknowledge its genocide (1/11)
Ex-chair of Cedarville Rancheria faces death sentence for murders (1/11)
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.