Avera takes comprehensive approach to building healthier American Indian communities

Oct. 12, 2018

This paid piece is sponsored by Avera.

An artistic display throughout October honoring Native American cultural traditions and history is a tangible sign of something much larger – Avera’s commitment and ongoing partnerships to serve American Indian communities in our region and beyond.

This year’s exhibit in the Prairie Center on the campus of Avera McKennan Hospital & University Health Center features paintings, woodcarvings and mixed-media pieces based on the history of Wounded Knee. A partnership between Avera and the Center for American Indian Research and Native Studies brings this event to Sioux Falls for the third year.

“The opportunities for cross-cultural awareness are many, and people will be amazed at this display and the history behind it,” said JR LaPlante, Avera Health director of tribal relations.

Avera American Indian Health Initiative

“More than a decade ago, Avera began donating excess medical equipment and supplies to reservation communities. Over the past five years, our commitment to American Indians has been building,” LaPlante said.

In 2013, Avera created the Avera American Indian Health Initiative, which partners with regional tribes, tribal organizations and the Indian Health Service, to improve access to health care in reservation communities. It has secured grants to fund projects that include:

  • Children’s Telehealth Network – Connects schools and social service agencies on Pine Ridge Indian Reservation and provides remote access to Avera providers via Avera eCARE telemedicine technology.
  • Diabetes education – Trains community health workers on how to care for and monitor people with diabetes.
  • New Hope Dialysis – Located in Wagner, this is the only tribally owned dialysis unit in the region. It is operated by Avera.
  • Walking Forward – Provides tribal communities with access to a variety of cancer-related resources and services, including education, navigation, screening and clinical trial opportunities.

Telemedicine outreach

In 2017, Avera eCARE received a federal grant of up to $100 million to extend telemedicine care to IHS facilities in the Great Plains area, which includes South Dakota, North Dakota, Nebraska and Iowa.

The grant provides funds for emergency and specialty clinic services to be offered to nearly 130,000 American Indians across the upper Midwest. Before this, many tribal members would either travel hundreds of miles for this level of specialty care or forgo care altogether.

Since the successful launch of these telemedicine services, Avera eCARE has noticed increasing interest among other IHS facilities across the nation.

“The real ‘win’ through this project is increased access to vital health care services for tribal communities,” said Deanna Larson, CEO of Avera eCARE.

Research projects

Avera research teams also engage in community-based research that directly benefits American Indian communities throughout the region.

In early 2018, Walking Forward, a department of Avera Cancer Institute Center for Precision Oncology, was awarded a research grant for over $1.6 million from the Bristol-Myers Squibb Foundation to increase lung cancer screening rates among high-risk smokers living in western South Dakota.

As part of the study, the Walking Forward team will offer primary care providers and clinic staff in western South Dakota – including those on the Pine Ridge and Rosebud Reservations – with educational opportunities designed to increase their awareness of and ability to identify and refer high-risk tobacco users to low-dose CT lung cancer screenings. They also will host community workshops to educate those who are considered high risk for developing lung cancer about the importance and availability of lung cancer screening.

The Avera Research Institute Center for Pediatric & Community Research team uses research to gain insight into child health and development, particularly in high-risk or medically underserved populations. One of their current projects – the Safe Sleep Study – is designed to find effective ways to improve sleep safety for infants.

In close collaboration with a tribal community advisory board, the research team developed a curriculum that promotes safer sleeping environments for babies and integrates American Indian cultural values and teachings with American Academy of Pediatrics recommendations. It’s  offered to expecting mothers as a clinical trial.

Investing in the future

In the summer of 2018, Avera Health established a history-making scholarship fund for American Indians at the University of South Dakota Sanford School of Medicine.

The Avera Health American Indian Scholarship Program Fund provides $24,000 annually for American Indian students who are enrolled members of federally recognized tribes located in South Dakota or the upper Midwest. Recipients are encouraged to provide care in underserved South Dakota areas.

“We see this program as one that will truly shape, with knowledge and compassion, those students willing to dedicate their lives to the well-being of Indian reservation communities,” LaPlante said.


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Avera takes comprehensive approach to building healthier American Indian communities

Behind this art exhibit is a powerful story about Avera’s commitment to building healthier American Indian communities.

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