Tribal members access care and address health problems

Health Care Worker and PatientOne of the main issues facing the Coharie Indian Tribe, which consists of 2,791 enrolled members, is access to health care. Recognized by the state of North Carolina in 1971, the tribe is currently governed by the Coharie Intra-Tribal Council, Inc., which seeks to address a broad scope of interrelated social, economic, and health problems on behalf of its members.

Major barriers to health care for tribal members include an inability to pay for health services, unavailable prevention programs, and insufficient access to care in rural areas. To address these problems, the tribe applied for and received an ANA Social and Economic Development Strategies grant to launch the Coharie Health Access, Improvement and Awareness Project.

The project’s purpose was to increase access to health care and enhance awareness and knowledge of health care issues and resources among members of the tribe. Project staff provided in-home medical services to 171 tribal members over a two-year period, conducted eight quarterly health screening clinics, disseminated health education materials, and created a health advisory committee for the tribe.

According to project staff, the health screening clinics, mobile units, and dissemination of health education materials were highly effective in raising awareness of behavioral determinants of health, promoting health literacy, and communicating the importance of preventative care for all tribal members, particularly elders and youth. The in-home medical services prevented many unnecessary and costly emergency room visits and resulted in referrals to physicians in eight cases in which recipients had serious health conditions requiring additional care.

The vast majority of tribal members who received treatment did not have health insurance or other financial resources to pay for services, and they likely would not have received treatment without this project. All services and materials were provided at no cost to tribal members.

Since the project ended, many of the outreach and preventive care activities have been sustained through partnerships and community volunteers, including health fairs and mobile health units which provide free health education materials, blood pressure screenings, and other preventive care services to tribal members on an ongoing basis.