Dialogue education can break down natural barriers to care

Dialogue education can break down natural barriers to care

He’s been in that role for six months, responsible for communicating health care needs both to the Native American community and to providers at Sanford Health.

Story Highlights:

  • Just ask Scott Davis, a member of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and a descendent of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa. He’s the head of Native American community outreach at Sanford Health in Bismarck, North Dakota.

  • Beyond his role at Sanford, he’s represented Native American heritage and culture for years.

“I’ve served at the governor’s office as the Indian affairs commissioner for 12 years. Three governors, and 23 tribal chairs. Obviously, my portfolio and my network covered a lot of health care during that time,” he explained.

In that time, he’s seen the health care challenges Native Americans face, and experienced it himself.

The need for quality health care

“I’ll use myself for (an) example. I have heart disease. It’s genetic. I’m 52 years old, and never in my wildest dreams I thought I would ever have heart disease. I grew up knowing statistics about Native American men, in particular, life expectancy was anywhere from 52 to 55. Growing up, I thought, ‘I’m going to smoke that.’

“Lo and behold, when I turned 50, I told my doctor I’d like to check my heart, just to make sure. My father went through heart disease. My uncle died from it. It’s really prevalent. So, here I am with it, and I had a heart attack last year at the age of 51. (And) had open heart surgery, bypass surgery, and I thought I was living a pretty healthy life,” he said.

He said his story is “just one example” of the health disparities Native Americans face. Diabetes and cancer are also prevalent. “Now, with COVID, our mortality rate is four times higher than the average American, or North or South Dakotan, (or) Minnesotan. Why is that?” he said.

American Indian health advocates: Bridging the gap Ultimately, if you ask Davis, it boils down to a lack of health care.

“As tribal people, tribal leaders, we will always go back to treaty obligations. Back in those days, our tribal leaders drew treaties, the law of the land, and in the agreement of taking our land, they would have to provide health care services as one of them. “That’s been a challenge for tribal leaders to really keep the foot on the pedal. Trying to keep Congress and the Indian Health Services accountable for that treaty. Twenty-five years ago, I started paying attention to this as a young man working for my tribe. Quite honestly, nothing has changed as far as statistics go. We’re still number one in a lot of those categories,” Davis said.

And he’s eager to get started. “How can we look at health care in a different light? When it comes to community health, public health, environmental health, and even our own self. That’s the challenge here that I’m really looking forward to. Working with an enterprise like Sanford, we have resources. That’s what really, really attracted me to come on board here. We have resources,” he said.

So, what could help? If you ask Davis, it’s a shift in how health care is viewed. A change in mindset

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