Tribal Unity Gathering XXI Summary Report

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Middle Kuskokwim delegates get ready to set priorities.

Tribal Delegates list sanitation, staffing, cancer screening among top priorities

This year’s Tribal Unity Gathering wrapped up April 9 with more than 60 delegates from most of the villages in the YK Delta region voting on their top health concerns, giving YKHC leadership a set of guidelines for improving health services in the coming year. Back at the top of the list: Water and Sewer, calling for piped water in every home.

With nearly half the homes in the YK Delta still using honey buckets and funding for sanitation projects drying up, it’s not a wish that can be easily granted. But it’s important to not give up on the issue. YKHC Medical Director Dr. Joe Klejka says proper sanitation is the most important thing that could be done for the health of the region.

In his presentation on the region’s health status on the first day of the Gathering, Klejka noted that the Centers for Disease Control recommends at least 17 gallons of water per person per day to prevent greater rates of respiratory and skin infections. Homes without piped water aren’t likely to achieve that amount.

Dr. Klejka’s “scorecard” presentation looked at what’s needed to realize YKHC’s vision of “becoming the healthiest people.” In addition to sanitation, the list includes prevention of cancer, prevention of injuries and suicide, sobriety, good prenatal care, immunizations, return to more traditional foods, exercise, and, in general, all those things that promote better health.

tgxxi-topten-grphSignificantly, delegates included some of these in their priorities, calling for more cancer screening as well as research into the causes of cancer, and more health care staff from Health Aides and Behavioral Health Aides to physicians at subregional clinics. Delegates also asked for reinstatement of home care, a program that was ended last year due to budget reductions.

YKHC’s Board of Directors will review the entire priorities list at their upcoming annual meeting and develop an action plan to address concerns consistent with the corporation’s overall strategic plan, mission and financial resources.

The annual Gathering always has a two-fold purpose: reports to delegates on the past year’s status, progress and accomplishments, and the tribal member priority setting for future improvements. Reports covered improvements in ER wait times, an update of our RAVEN electronic health record system, the new YK Elders Home, Behavioral Health, facilities maintenance and more.

Dr. Rosalyn Singelton, Immunization Coordinator for the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium, provided a slideshow on the importance of vaccines and immunizations and Dr. Michael Cooper, MD, the Tuberculosis Controller with the State of Alaska, gave an insightful presentation about the history of TB in Alaska.

YKHC’s new President/CEO Dan Winkelman introduced himself to the Gathering, although as a 13-year employee of the corporation (most recently administrative vice president), he is no stranger to most. During his first few months in the top position, he has been traveling to villages to meet with staff and tribal members personally and plans to visit every village in the next year.

Winkelman also spoke of challenges ahead, mainly dealing with a budget shortfall resulting from the federal “sequester” of funds last year and increasing expenses.

Tribal delegates had a chance to interact with Senators Lisa Murkowski and Mark Begich, who dialed in via video teleconference. State legislators representing southwest Alaska, Bob Herron and Bryce Edgemon, joined the tribal delegation on the second day to provide a legislative update about bills affecting health and public safety. Congressman Don Young also appeared via video teleconference on the second day to greet the tribal delegation.

Day Two began with nearly 30 health care providers joining the delegates and board members for a buffet breakfast and introductions. Health Aides, Health Aide instructors, dental assistants, DHATs, nurses, nurse practitioners, PAs, mid-levels, physicians, pediatricians, dentists, optometrists, pharmacists, and interns were included.

More than 100 employees were instrumental in participating at all levels for each day of the event, pitching in for set-up, clean-up, facilitating, or working behind the scenes—Travel Management, Materials Management, Finance Administrators, Accounts Payable, and Dietary Services to name a few.

YKHC Public Relations sends a big Quyana to all the staff volunteers, community sponsors, ONC, senior leadership, and board members who welcomed our delegates and contributed to another successful and inspiring Gathering. We especially thank the delegates for their time and hard work in helping us become a stronger and more responsive tribal health organization, exemplifying our mission—Working Together to Achieve Excellent Health!

Visit our Tribal Gathering 2014 page to view presentations, survey results, priorities and other information about this year’s Gathering.

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