At a symposium hosted by the Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation and University of Oklahoma College of Public Health, U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Michael Leavitt underscored the federal government’s commitment to improving health care and delivery to American Indians.
“American Indians are not immune to the chronic diseases sweeping the nation,” Leavitt told Oklahoma tribal leaders and health care providers at the OU College of Public Health. “Working collaboratively with tribal nations and organizations, we are implementing programs to provide access to critical health care and prevention services for all American Indian individuals and communities.”
Leavitt made the trip to Oklahoma to give the keynote address at a symposium on American Indian health issues. In his 50-minute speech, he outlined nine priorities for improving health care for American Indians and all Americans. Those priorities included illness prevention, ensuring the availability of affordable health care, and providing insurance for children in need.
Leavitt cited prevention efforts both for diseases like diabetes and behavioral conditions like substance abuse. He also highlighted a program begun in 2006 by the Indian Health Service to deliver care for a variety of chronic illnesses in a cost-effective manner. One of the five tribal sites selected for that program was Oklahoma’s Cherokee Nation Health Services.
“Secretary Leavitt emphasized that effectively combating chronic conditions requires active partnerships between tribal, federal, state, and private organizations,” said Gary Raskob, Ph.D., Dean of the OU College of Public Health. “In Oklahoma, we’ve formed these partnerships, and are using them to make headway against diabetes, cancer and other health conditions that disproportionately impact American Indians.”
OMRF President Stephen Prescott, M.D., lauded the Secretary for training his sights on American Indian health issues. “Native populations face numerous health disparities,” said Prescott. “Secretary Leavitt is taking bold steps to prevent and treat disease in American Indian populations.”
In addition to Secretary Leavitt’s speech, the symposium featured presentations from physicians and researchers from OMRF and the OU Health Sciences Center on diabetes, diseases of aging, health disparities and disease prevention. Tribal leaders also led a panel discussion, which was introduced by OU President David Boren.
“It was an honor to have Secretary Leavitt come to our state and our campus,” said Boren. “We hope we gave him an introduction to the many different ways that scientists, public health experts and physicians in Oklahoma are working with communities to improve health care for Native Americans across our state and beyond.”