Native professionals needed to lower healthcare disparities

KARLA ABBOTT
Assistant Professor of Nursing, Augustana University

As an enrolled member of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe in Eagle Butte, South Dakota, I was a consumer of the federal government health care system, or Indian Health Service (IHS), that provides care to American Indians living on or off the reservation.

Although never adequately funded, I received good care from IHS facilities.  The dedication and commitment of my mother and other nurses that provided care at the IHS inspired me to enter the nursing field.

Because of continued health disparities, it is important to educate American Indian students in healthcare fields. American Indians educated at the baccalaureate level is the only way to get American Indian minds a seat at the health policy table and eliminate these disparities.

Therefore, I am in full support of increased scholarship opportunities for American Indian students in healthcare fields.    

According to IHS, “the American Indian and Alaska Native people have long experienced lower health status when compared with other Americans. Lower life expectancy and the disproportionate disease burden exist perhaps because of inadequate education, disproportionate poverty, discrimination in the delivery of health services, and cultural differences. These are broad quality of life issues rooted in economic adversity and poor social conditions.”

From 2009-2011, heart diseases, malignant neoplasm, unintentional injuries, and diabetes were leading causes of American Indian and Alaska Native deaths.

American Indians and Alaska Natives born today have a life expectancy that is five and a half years less than the U.S. all race populations, at 73 years.

American Indians and Alaska Natives continue to die at higher rates than other Americans in many categories, including chronic liver disease and cirrhosis, diabetes mellitus, unintentional injuries, assault/homicide, intentional self-harm/suicide and chronic lower respiratory diseases.

A growing number of American Indian adolescents die by suicide and other mental health disorders. American Indian communities are also fighting to heal and recover the loss of many missing and murdered American Indian women across the nation.

Given the higher health status enjoyed by most Americans, the lingering health disparities of American Indians and Alaska Natives are troubling.  

In trying to account for the disparities, health care experts, policymakers and tribal leaders are looking at many factors that impact the health of Indian people, including adequate funding for the Indian health care delivery system.

 

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