Char-Koosta News 

ST. IGNATIUS — Tribal Health of the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes (CSKT) showcased its services during a visit from Center for Disease Control (CDC) and Prevention staff. Community health, sanitation, and sexual health were among the local health topics on the agenda.

Registered Nurse Tammy Matt discussed Tribal Health’s unique approach to community health services. “Tribal Health prioritizes the cultural needs of our community and that sets us apart in healthcare,” she said. “We have an on-staff cultural advisor (Steven Buffalo) and we try to integrate culture into our programs without overstepping boundaries. For example, Tribal Health has hosted dry meat socials, which promotes a traditional diet and there will be a cradleboard-making workshop to support breastfeeding. We recognize that culture is a critical part of our health as Native people.”

CDC Center Director for State, Tribal, Local, and Territorial Support Dr. Jose Montero said the current state of healthcare often falls short in its ability to serve tribal communities. “Just because a model has evidence-based success in one community doesn’t mean it’s going to work in your community,” he said. “Tribal communities really have to develop your own science on what will work for your clients. Look at the programs that exist and tweak it to make it work for you. The program isn’t serving its purpose if it isn’t serving your needs.”

Providing healthcare on the Flathead Reservation is a balancing act between tribal, state, and Federal agencies. Montero said success is determined in how well communication within the agencies is maintained. “Agencies need to hear from you on our shortcomings,” he said. “I can’t tell you how many long-term issues were resolved because someone decided to question things or speak up. If you are told something isn’t possible, look into it to see if it is in fact true. Policies change and it’s important to stay up to date because you could be missing out on resources.”

According to a 2017 Communicable Disease Surveillance report conducted by Montana’s Department of Public Health and Human Services, Lake County’s three main community health emergencies involved a surge in communicable diseases, specifically 56 reported cases of Hepatitis C, 62 reported cases of Gonorrhea, and 176 reported cases of Chlamydia. 

Matt said Tribal Health conducted an investigation on the health crisis. “Our investigation was successful and we were able to trace the new cases of Gonorrhea back to the oil pipelines in North Dakota,” she said. “We contacted the healthcare agencies in North Dakota to have the situation addressed there as well. Our Tribal Health clients who have Hepatitis C are monitored. We learned that the new cases were tied to one group of IV users who were sharing needles within their group. Because of the investigation, we were able to not only provide treatment but also education on safety.”

CSKT’s sole Sanitarian and Safety Officer Brian Crawford described his work providing services to all tribal departments on the Flathead Reservation as well as organizations located on tribal trust and fee land. “Most of my work since starting in June has been updating the operations,” he said. “Tribal Health is unique because it’s able to develop its own public health codes and the previous officer had a two paragraph code. Since coming here I’ve updated that process and we now follow federal and state codes. Aside from inspecting food and beverage businesses within the tribes, I have also gone into the homes of our community health patients and surveyed the health and safety of their environments.”

Nursing Student Morgan Malatare discussed Tribal Health’s collaboration with Salish Kootenai College (SKC) in providing sexual education and screenings for sexually transmitted diseases (STD). “Over a span of 12 years, Salish Kootenai College provided over 3,000 HIV tests for the area,” she said. “In those screenings, we had only one reactive test and that individual knew they were positive; they just wanted to test to see if they were still positive. Aside from providing screenings for STDs, SKC will be offering a human sexuality course this fall. We also provide sexual education workshops to local schools, which are monitored by school boards. Sexual education often leaves out sexual orientation and that’s something we’d like to work towards providing in the future.”

Tribal Health operates six clinics located throughout the Flathead Reservation. Amongst the services Tribal Health provides includes Dental, Behavioral Health, Optical, Pharmacy, as well as clinical. For more information visit: http://www.cskthealth.org.

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