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HEALTH: University hosts first American Indian Health Collaboration

October 13, 2009

On October 5, UNC Pembroke took a step to reach out to improve the health of the Lumbee Tribe by hosting an inaugural American Indian Health and Wellness Collaboration.

10american_indian_health_collaboration.jpg	Meeting with representatives of the 55,000-member tribe and many key health care planners and providers in the region, UNCP released an internal survey ranking the health issues affecting the tribe.

It is a first step, said Dr. Charles Harrington, provost and vice chancellor for academic affairs. He found direction after seeking input from those in attendance.

“You have given us something to think about in hosting a larger health care summit,” Dr. Harrington said. “Please remember, this is not the University’s project; this is our project. Together, we must become a community of solutions.”

Those in attendance were representatives of the Robeson County Health and Mental Health departments, Southeastern Regional Medical Center, Southeast Region Area Health Education Center (AHEC), Pembroke Pediatrics, Sacred Pathways, Healthkeeperz and Native Angels home health companies and the Robeson County Jail’s health service.

UNCP was represented by the American Indian Studies (AIS) Department, Nursing Departments, Office for Institutional Effectiveness and grant writers Dr. Peggy Opitz, founder of UNCP’s nursing program, Dr. Stan Knick, an anthropologist, and Dr. Ottis Murray, a sociologist.

Cherry Beasley, a member of the nursing faculty, and Dr. Mary Ann Jacobs, a social worker and chair of the AIS Department, moderated the meeting.

“The first thing we did was look at the University’s mission statement to see if an outreach of this kind is compatible, and we found it is within our mission and vision,” Beasley said. “Our purpose today was to begin the outreach and collaborative process.”

“I was pleased with what happened this morning,” Dr. Jacobs said. “This project started from many different directions - faculty and community.”

Dr. Opitz, a veteran of launching health and health education programs, was energized.

“I think there is great potential for grant writing,” Dr. Opitz said. “I am excited about this meeting.”

Dr. Beverly King, UNCP’s assistant vice chancellor for Institutional Effectiveness, wrote in her survey presentation that the University’s core values include a commitment to serving the region. Her office surveyed the faculty and staff of the University.

“Ninety-five percent of respondents said an American Indian Health and Wellness Collaboration would be a positive addition to UNCP’s pattern of research and community service,” Dr. King reported.

However, almost two-thirds of survey respondents said they have an “average” or lower awareness of health issues affecting local American Indians.

Cardiovascular-related disease and diabetes were rated as the most pressing health issues of tribal members, the survey indicated. About three-quarters of UNCP’s respondents said they are interesting in becoming involved with the health and wellness project.

The University has considerable expertise on issues related to American Indians, health and wellness, mental health, at-risk youth, community health and health care, education, disparities, economics and policy among other specialists.

During discussions, Alex Baker, representing the Lumbee Tribal government, said the tribe’s status as non-federally recognized allows no funding from Indian Health Services.

“We’re a housing agency now,” Baker said. “We know there are health problems, and health is a driving force behind our federal recognition efforts.”

A Lumbee recognition bill is now before the full U.S. Senate after winning House approval last spring.

AHEC’s Amy Vega said the economy is one barrier to health progress.

“Everybody we talk with is pushed to the limit,” Vega said. “This is a challenging time to be visioning for the future.”

Vega also noted the lack of a Lumbee health database as a problem. Besides identifying critical issues, a database prevents duplication of efforts.

Lisa Huggins Oxendine, a Physician’s Assistant with Pembroke Pediatrics, said attendance should be better, but it’s difficult for practioners to find time during office hours.

Tim Brooks of Healthkeeprz said a barrier for home health deliverers is that they are not planners.

Dr. Ruth Dial Woods said lobbying efforts are needed to include Lumbees in federal health initiatives that include other American Indians.

AHEC’s Vega suggested a larger health care summit that would include continuing medical education for health care providers. UNCP’s chief academic officer agreed.

“A health care summit is a really good and timely idea,” Dr. Harrington said. “Clearly, the citizens of this region are facing significant challenges in regards to health and wellness. It is only appropriate that the University play a role in working with the Lumbee Tribe, healthcare providers, and other social services to develop strategies for addressing these issues. The potential for meaningful and impactful collaboration in this initiative shows great promise.”

For more information about the American Indian Health and Wellness Collaboration, please contact Dr. Charles Harrington, Provost and Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs at 910.521.6211.