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THHS Community Health Division Manager Barb Plouffe retiring

By B.L. Azure

Barb Plouffe, retiring THHS Community Health Division manager, was recently award the “Exemplary Service Award” by the Montana Public Health Nurse’s Association. (B.L. Azure photo) Barb Plouffe, retiring THHS Community Health Division manager, was recently award the “Exemplary Service Award” by the Montana Public Health Nurse’s Association. (B.L. Azure photo)

ST.IGNATIUS — There is just no way to keep the sands of time from trickling down in an hourglass. Registered Nurse Barb Plouffe realizes that now that the few remaining granules of sand fall earthward in her 27-year career with the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes’ Tribal Health and Human Services Department.

Plouffe, manager of the THHS Community Health Division, is hanging up her stethoscope, and laying down the needles and syringes, and band-aids at the end of the year and turning the hourglass over for the next phase of her life.

“I am very thankful for all the things Barb has given us through the years here at Tribal Health,” said THHS Director Kevin Howlett. “Her work here has resulted in a better health care delivery system for the Tribes and the area. She has worked very hard to establish a good professional relationship with the other health care entities in the arena of public nursing.”

Plouffe’s career in the nursing really began in her youth at her South Dakota home. As the oldest of 12 children she — as the oldest of siblings often are — was the defacto guardian and caregiver of her brothers and sisters.

“I really don’t know why I became a nurse but it seems it was just something that I always wanted to do,” Plouffe said. “As the oldest kid I did my share of fixing up my brothers and sisters. I also had an aunt who worked as a nurse’s aid. Maybe that’s where it started but I really don’t know.”

That start soon led to the working as a nurse’s aid in the Bennett County Hospital in South Dakota as a 14-year-old, after school and on the weekends. Once out of high school Plouffe continued her career as a nurse’s aid in medical facilities in Seward, Nebraska, Rapid City, South Dakota and Laramie, Wyoming.

While working in Laramie, Barb enrolled in school to become a licensed practical nurse. Soon after graduating Plouffe and her former husband moved to Missoula then to the St. Ignatius area where her then husband helped his uncle manage his Mission Valley farm.

In 1980 Plouffe enrolled at Montana State University to become a Registered Nurse. After one quarter in Bobcat Country, she transferred to the University of Montana where she earned her RN degree in 1984. In 1986 Plouffe began her career with Tribal Health. Prior to working for Tribal Health Plouffe worked at St. Luke Hospital in Ronan and the Holy Family Hospital in St. Ignatius.

Plouffe said she has witnessed great strides from the top to bottom in the health care profession.

Back in the day the local ambulance service didn’t have emergency medical technicians of board, in fact EMTs weren’t a part of the system back then.

The local ambulance service back then was owned by the late-Joe Fearon, the St. Ignatius mortician.

“It was just Joe and myself, and the patient in the ambulance making a run. There wasn’t any medical equipment or supplies, just me and Joe,” Plouffe said. “I often wonder what people thought when they’d look up and see Joe the mortician in control of the ambulance. Nowadays there are well-trained EMTs aboard very well-equipped ambulances.”

Plouffe said another big blip on her radar is the evolution of the health care delivery system from being hospital driven to home care- and preventive maintenance-driven. “Tribal Health has adopted this model,” Plouffe said. “It is better for the bottom line and better for the patient to be at home healing then stay in the hospital for long period of time.”

She said Medicare and Medicaid reimbursement policies helped facilitate the change.

“It wasn’t unusual for a woman who had just given birth to stay in the hospital for a week or so,” Plouffe said. “Now they are often out in a day or two.”

Health related education and awareness has also been a big change Plouffe has witnessed.

“Tribal Health has worked to increase the patients health awareness and knowledge in the field through education and the use of technology,” she said. “We can do home IV therapy, assess patients in the field and get them to a doctor if needed.”

There has also been the growth of the access to heath care specialists as well as an increase in choice of providers in the Flathead Reservation area. That results in options for patients that don’t exist to similar extents in other Indian reservations in Montana.

“There are a lot of things we take for granted these days that just didn’t exist not so long ago,” Plouffe said. “When we needed to do ultrasounds we’d have to send people to Missoula; not anymore. MRIs were only available regionally but now they can be done locally.”

Plouffe said she has also witnessed a growth of local youth going to college to become medical professionals.

“When I first came here the thought of peoples’ sons and daughters becoming doctors was almost totally a dream,” she said. “It isn’t that way anymore. It is now a reality that some of our young people have gone on to college and medical schools to become medical professionals, including doctors. Now young people of today don’t have to dream because know it can be done. It only takes one or two role models to get the rest to realize the possibilities.”

Plouffe, a role model in her own right, was recently recognized for her career as a public health nurse. In October, she was presented with the “Exemplary Service Award” by the Montana Public Health Nurse’s Association at its annual convention in Great Falls.

“I had no idea I was going to get this award. It’s an honor that I will cherish and a good way to end a career,” she said. “I want to thank everyone for allowing me into their lives both here at Tribal Health and the other medical facilities I worked at. It’s been an honor and privilege to serve them.”

In retirement there are many possibilities for Barb and husband Gary Plouffe to while away the sands of time including spending more time with family and seeing other parts of Mother Earth.

“I definitely am going to spend more time with the kids, grandkids and great-grandkids now that I have the time,” she said. “In April Gary and I are going on a sea cruise from New Orleans through the Panama Canal then onto San Francisco.”

Bon Voyage.

“I wish Barb well in her retirement,” Howlett said. “I hope she and Gary have lots of good times with her children and grandchildren.”

Barb Plouffe retirement luncheon set for Dec. 17
ST. IGNATIUS — All are invited to a retirement luncheon for Barb Plouffe, the retiring director of the Community Health Division of the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes Tribal Health and Human Services Department.

The luncheon and related festivities for Plouffe, who has worked for Tribal Health for 27 years, is scheduled from noon to 4 p.m., Tuesday, December 17, at Ninepipes Lodge.

For more information, contact Jo Ellen Morigeau at 745-3525, ext. 5088.

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