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Dr. Valerie Fox, a Sanford Bemidji family physician, plays a key role in the local implementation of Sanford One Care, an initiative that aims to improve health-care delivery for patients with chronic health concerns. Monte Draper | Bemidji Pioneer

Sanford aims to improve American Indian health care

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BEMIDJI – A patient is best served when she has a team of medical staff working in tandem to address all of her medical needs, says Dr. Valerie Fox, a Sanford Bemidji family physician.

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That is the goal of Sanford One Care, a team-based initiative that aims to improve health-care delivery for patients with chronic health concerns.

“What we’re trying to do is identify how we can improve our ability to serve our patients … in the most effective manner,” said Dr. Read Sulik, Sanford Health’s senior vice president for Behavioral Health Services. “What we’re hoping to do is really come up with, to really learn as a health-care system, what we need to do differently.”

One component of the initiative is Sanford Health’s plan to hire two full-time traditional American Indian healers for its system.

The hires, one to be based in Sioux Falls, S.D., and the other in Fargo, N.D., would not necessarily perform traditional ceremonies but serve as consultants to existing medical staff, educating workers about cultural issues and also educating patients about their options for treatment.

“It’s a good way for us to transform how we care for our Native American patients here,” said Fox, a member of the White Earth Nation who has received traditional-healing services herself.

Traditional healers also will work to link health-care providers with local tribes, so if a patient wants traditional healing services, clinical staff could meet that request.

American Indian patients often face some of the largest health disparities in the country, noted Fox, who plays a key role in the local implementation of Sanford One Care.

Neither of the initial traditional healers likely will to be from the Ojibwe culture. Sulik said a strong Lakota/Dakota candidate now is advancing application process for the Sioux Falls position, which makes sense since American Indian patients served by Sanford in that region are from that culture.

For the Fargo post, Sanford has hired Prairie Rose Seminole, a member of the Mandan, Hidatsa, and Arikara Nation, also known as the Three Affiliated Tribes, in North Dakota, Sulik said, noting that Sanford Health in Fargo serves a mixture of Lakota/Dakota and Ojibwe patients.

For Bemidji, he said he is trying to work the budget to fund a part-time hire from the Ojibwe culture to specifically serve this area.

“We’re still probably going to bring somebody on board who has that Anishinaabe healing expertise and experience that could be that guide and ongoing adviser to us,” Sulik said.

Vikki Howard is the Indian health advocate/liaison at Sanford Bemidji Medical Center.

New initiatives in Bemidji will complement that position, Sulik said.

“What we’re doing now is really creating formal training modules that everyone in our primary care clinics will have access to, to really come to learn specific things … about reaching out to and engaging with American Indian patients,” he said.

The Sanford One Care initiative, funded through a $12 million Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services award, aims to improve health care for patients facing chronic health issues.

Fox said it aims to place patients in the center of a team of medical staff who all work around her specific health-care needs.

Ideally, that would include behavioral health as well, she said.

Fox is advocating for the addition of three behavioral health triage nurses, who would be licensed clinical social workers to address behavioral health needs as well.

Through Sanford One Care, traditional healers would be brought in to join that patient’s health-care team. Currently, patients seek out traditional healing on their own.

“The problem with that is that everyone is not integrated,” Fox said.

Fox, when working with the Mille Lacs Health System, experienced a fully integrated system and said she saw firsthand the benefits from it.

“A lot of patients don’t know where or how to access (traditional healing opportunities),” she said. “It’s an access problem.”

Sanford One Care intends to address just that.

“It’s a great project,” Fox said. “Really, it’s about transforming how health care is provided.”

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