Cherokee Elder Care participant likes being first involved

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TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – For many years, Cherokee Nation citizen Faye Richardson of Locust Grove has enjoyed being involved in new programs. She was one of the first employees hired by the Cherokee Nation as a community health nurse where she served Cherokees and other Native Americans for more than three decades. After her retirement from Cherokee Nation Health Services, she became a nurse for Cherokee Nation Home Health. Two years ago, Richardson became the first involved in another new program; she was the first official participant in Cherokee Elder Care.

“This is a wonderful program,” Richardson said. “At first, I didn’t think I would do it, but now I come down here about twice a week. I’ve been coming here for two years now and I really like it.”

Opening in 2008, Cherokee Elder Care is a part of the Program for All-inclusive Care for the Elderly, or PACE, and is the first Native American program of its type in the United States and one of the only programs of its type in Oklahoma. The program is a long-term care program offered through the Centers of Medicare and Medicaid Services for individuals aged 55 and above who need nursing home level of care and who can live safely in a home environment within the program’s service area. Individuals do not have to be Cherokee Nation citizens or Native American to participate. In the two years since its opening, the program has grown to providing services to more than 60 participants.

After many years of providing health care to others, Richardson found herself on the receiving end of the types of services she had always provided. She spent nearly a year in a nursing home, and soon found that some services were limited through Cherokee Nation Health Services and through the Indian Health Service. As her family was arranging for home health, her daughter learned that the Cherokee Nation was in the process of opening up Cherokee Elder Care.

“About four years ago I got sick and had to stay a while in the nursing home. Now that I am here, I can stay at home and do not have to worry, wondering what to do if I get sick again. I am covered here in one place, and being here allows me more freedom,” she said.

After serving for three years in the United States Navy, Richardson was the first to enter a program called Cycle 11, a special training program for American Indians and Alaska Natives, in Arizona. The Cherokee Nation sent her there for a month to learn in-depth about health services and prepared them to become community health nurses. Upon completion of the program, she worked in Tahlequah for the tribe. Soon, she received word that the Cherokee Nation was planning to establish satellite clinics to other areas in its jurisdiction.

“It did not seem possible at the time, but the next thing I knew they had moved small trailers and old buildings into small communities and converted them into clinics,” she said.

As a community health nurse, Richardson worked in the clinics and also visited patients in their homes, performing services ranging from blood pressure checks to family planning.

One of her primary services was simply to listen to her patient’s needs and concerns. Often, she would find herself making referrals for her patients to other Cherokee Nation programs. “Sometimes I still see families I helped when I was working as a nurse, and some I did family planning with have grown children now. It’s fun to see people I knew from before.”

Since becoming a participant at Cherokee Elder Care, Richardson has enjoyed her time with the staff and the other participants, some of whom she knew as a community health nurse. She said between her activity at the center and the fact that her daughter is now following her footsteps as a nurse in the Cherokee Nation Health Services Group has brought her life full circle. For now, Richardson is enjoying her life and the friends she has made at Cherokee Elder Care.

“I’m very happy here. I would encourage others to come here as well.”