DETROIT – About 350 people attended the American Indian Health and Family Services’ annual Healthy Families Fair in Detroit Oct. 4. American Indian and Alaska Native families from southeastern Michigan received free health screenings and were offered the chance to enroll in different health and human service programs for which they were eligible.
The Title V-funded/IHS urban Indian health clinic serves a five-county service area and provides care for about 3,000 clients annually. According to Executive Director Jerilyn Church, the latest census identified 30,000 people living in southeastern Michigan who have identified themselves as American Indian and/or Alaska Native.
Families were able to receive flu shots, eye and dental exams, and health screenings for cancer, diabetes and hypertension; they could also talk to representatives from Medicaid, Medicare and veterans services about enrollment.
“The health fair is our biggest activity of the fall season,” Church said. “This is a time for families to take care of their health care needs in one place at the same time. Children can get their teeth cleaned and there are foot checks for diabetic patients. The health department was there offering lead testing, and representatives from the Veterans Administration were there offering information for vets about services.”
A sacred fire was tended by an elder for those wishing for quiet reflection or to offer a prayer – a way of incorporating culture into their health care plan. “There was a lot of activity, food and information being shared,” Church said.
Photo courtesy Nickole Fox Felicitas Gonzales and Theresa Martin tested blood glucose for Makenzie O’Leary and Paula Hammond as part of the services offered during the health fair.
“We do a lot of educational outreach through the local schools and Indian education programs. One of my favorite programs is our youth prevention program for drugs, alcohol and tobacco. We offer kids a comprehensive summer and after school program. They do things from planting a community garden to harvesting their vegetables and selling them at the Detroit Market. They are also involved in the Family Summer Olympics, camping, drumming and mentoring by local elders.
“One of our newly certified medical assistants grew up in the youth program and now she has come back to work for the agency. We really try to be a safe haven for families and kids and to be that connection to a healthy lifestyle as well as traditional values.”
The family practice clinic offers diabetes management; back-to-school physicals; behavioral health services, including substance abuse counseling; and public health education. “AIHFS has been undergoing a great deal of change and growth this last year. For many years, urban Indian health and our organization were looked on as a provider of last resort. We are expanding our ability to accept third-party billing and insurances, and improving the quality of our services to attract not only patients without insurance or those who are underserved, but folks who have insurance and have a choice about where they can go for health care. We want to be a provider for all Native people regardless of where they are at in terms of their access to health care.
“We want to create a balance in our services and who we serve. We want the quality of our services to be attractive to those who do have a choice, which will help us to generate revenue to offer more services and better quality services to those who are Medicaid-eligible or uninsured. We have changed and broadened the focus of our outreach,” she said.
AIHFS recipient of two grants
The clinic has three providers, Medical Director Dr. Uyen Thai-Budzinski; Dr. Jason Crookham, D.O.; and Dr. Josette French, who oversees the diabetes program. A nurse practitioner will soon be joining the clinic and offering women’s health services. There is also a registered nurse, licensed practical nurse and two medical assistants on staff. A consulting psychologist, licensed medical social worker, billing and client care coordinator also offer their services. Dental work is contracted out and offers preventive services, such as cleanings, as well as fillings and extractions.
In addition, the clinic offers the services of several traditional healers and teachers. “We are an urban program with the majority of our clients coming from the Three Fires tribes of Anishinaabe. We also bring healers and teachers in from many different traditions, some who come from South Dakota and Mexico, because there are over 155 different tribes represented at our center.
“What really makes us unique, I believe, from any other community health clinic is that we incorporate traditional healing opportunities and values in the way we approach our patients and the services we offer,” Church said.
AIHFS of Southeastern Michigan Inc. is a nonprofit community health clinic providing holistic health services focusing on the physical, emotional and spiritual well-being of their patients. Thirty-four AIHFS clinics exist throughout the country