|June 26, 2014
Tribal Health interns welcomed to the fold
By B.L. Azure
Cameron Neiss, Zach Conko-Camel, Adessa Durglo, Mariah Hamel, Melinda Smith and Loretta Grey Cloud are the summer interns at Tribal Health. Durglo is the intern program coordinator. (B.L. Azure photo)
ST. IGNATIUS — The medical and administrative staff at the Tribal Health and Human Services Department (THHS) recently welcomed the five summer interns to the fold. The interns will shadow the THHS medical professionals related to their career choices as well as rotate among those not in their particular career choice to get a better picture of the whole system.
The five interns are: Zach Conko-Camel, administration; Cameron Neiss, pharmacy; Mariah Hamel, pharmacy; Melinda Smith, physical therapy; and Loretta Grey Cloud, dental.
During their first week as interns they met with a group of THHS medical and administrative professionals and invited guests at a welcoming gathering. They all shared their life and educational journeys with them and all were very similar. The route to the present, for most, was fraught with economic, social and educational hurdles — very high hurdles for some. But through it all they eventually achieved their educational goals and eventually came back home to serve the tribal people on the Flathead Reservation.
Polson District Tribal Councilman Vernon Finley said he had come up a bit short on a lot of his early-life goals but he never gave up the journey.
“I tried a lot of things and almost succeeded in many but I always came up a bit short of achieving them,” Finley said, adding that he eventually buckled down. “Before I knew it I was student teaching and when I was done with that I graduated. The spiritual path was the critical part of my educational achievements. It helped me balance my educational pursuit with the sacrifice my family made for me. You control your destiny, don’t give up that control.”
Salish Pend d’Oreille Culture Committee Director Tony Incashola told the interns that they are whom they are and where they are because of the sacrifices of the generations of tribal people that have gone on. They didn’t live to see their dreams and hopes come to fruition but young people like the interns are a manifestation of the ancestors’ steadfast desires.
Vernon Finley shared his educational sojourn with the THHS interns and staff. Dr. LeeAnna Muzquiz is on the right. (B.L. Azure photo)
“Always keep in your minds and hearts those who came before us, who sacrificed for us so we could be here today,” Incashola said. “Their hopes and dreams have been passed down through the generations. They didn’t sacrifice just for themselves but for everyone. Your successes are their dreams coming true.”
Dr. LeeAnna Muzquiz, THHS North Division Medical director, told the interns to keep in mind all they have heard at the welcoming and reflect on it.
“There has always been a force that has kept me on track,” Muzquiz said, adding, “It is important to know the pitfalls that are out there. Learn where you need to go for guidance when making decisions.”
Dr. Garry Pitts, THHS Dental Division director, was only the fifth Indian dentist in America when he began his career nearly 40 years ago.
“I knew at a young age that I wanted to become a dentist. It’s been a long route to get to this point,” Pitts said. “If you keep your vision clear you can get where you want but it is not an easy and straight line.”
Kim Azure, THHS Behavioral Health Division director, said there was a combination of things that got her to the present.
“I have been surrounded with good people who know what we do is not about them but about the people we serve,” Azure said. “I have had good teachers and great Indian role models — Agnes Vanderburg and Dr. Gyda Swaney — that thought me so much. Take care of yourselves and you’ll enjoy yourselves.”
“Indians always find other Indians,” said Brenda Bodnar, Diabetes Prevention program manager. “I have and you have a calling to serve Indian people.”
“We are creating an opportunity for you here at Tribal Health. When you finish your education, you have a job here at Tribal Health,” said THHS Director Kevin Howlett. “We appreciate our non-Indian employees but at some point there will be a changing of the guard and we’d like to have you on board. There will always be a need for health care professionals here. The future is bright with opportunity and our doors are open.”
The THHS interns and staff listen to one of the presentations at the intern-welcoming gathering. (B.L. Azure photo)
Howlett said the Internship Program was created to, among other things, put a familiar face on medical professionals that serve the tribal people at THHS clinics. That goal goes hand-in-hand with the growth of THHS as a compacted program.
The Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribal Council recently officially requested that the last piece of the health care delivery puzzle — the Indian Health Service Contract Health Services program — on the Flathead Reservation be compacted. A decision on the compacting of CHS is expected by late summer or early fall. Howlett said that would make THHS a seamless administrative body that could make better manage health care delivery decisions as a local entity.
There are approximately 140 positions now at THHS and those positions could be filled by qualified members and descendants of the Salish, Pend d’Oreille and Kootenai Tribes of the Flathead Nation. The Summer Intern Program is one way to smooth the road to meeting that goal.
Three years ago with the opening of the new Polson THHS Clinic 40 new jobs with an average wage/salary of more than $60,000 were created. Medical professionals are on the upper tier of pay scale with six-figure annual salaries.
Nationally health care is a growing and stable industry and the same could be said — to some extent — about health care in Indian Country. The THHS Intern Program was created to assist tribal member and descendant college students interested in health care professions achieve their educational goals and potentially come back home and work for Tribal Health.
Tribal Health is committed to the development of a professional workforce and the opportunity for people to pursue a career in health care to serve the tribal membership as part of a professional team of heath care providers. Tribal Health recognizes the disparity of health care professionals from the Native population. Tribal Health is committed to rectify the disparity in a culturally competent approach with the internships and HCW camp.