What started as a research project at St. Catherine University has blossomed into an award-winning healthcare program. “Witaya Care” at St. Francis Regional Medical Center in Shakopee recently won a Community Benefit Award from the Minnesota Hospital Association.
Addressing healthcare disparities among Native American communities have long challenged researchers and practitioners. While a student in the Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) program, Jane Peterson DNP’13 teamed up with faculty advisor Rozina Bhimani to conduct a research project to address these challenges.
The purpose of their project was to identify community needs by a Native American tribe and implement projects to address the current health and wellness issues identified thorough a community-based collaborative action research (CBCAR) framework. This framework was used to conduct the study.
“CBCAR provides a rich avenue for collaboration which allows for mutual respect and working together towards a mutual agreed upon problem,” explains Peterson.
Serving as DNP project leader, Peterson initiated the community-based research project in 2011 in collaboration with the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community. She first introduced the idea of facilitating a needs assessment to Stanley Crooks, chairman of the tribal community. Having worked as a nurse practitioner for the tribe for the past decade, Peterson had earned the community's trust.
“In the past the health department had tried collecting data for a community needs assessment however it had been unsuccessful due to the tribal community’s lack of participation. However this time the assessment came from within the community,” Peterson explains.
The assessment identified key initiatives that should be taken and from there Witaya Care was born. “Witaya” is the Dakota word for “to come together” or “to bring something or someone together.”
“Every step of the way, the tribal community supported Jane with her research efforts. It’s a testament to the importance of addressing healthcare in a culturally competent manner — and what a difference it makes when practitioners do,” says Bhimani.
The research project eventually led to a memorandum of understanding between St. Francis Regional Medical Center and the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community (SMSC) to establish the Witaya Care program, which brings resources together in the following ways:
- Adding a care navigator to help facilitate the care process;
- Integrating medical records;
- Integrating imaging services so medical images can be shared between the tribal clinic and hospital;
- Identifying preferred physicians to treat SMSC patients, creating a consistent approach to care;
- Educating leaders, nurses and staff about the unique health care preferences of tribal members; and
- Developing relationships to meet mental health and chemical dependency needs.
Collectively, these efforts are helping Native American community members experience improved health and confidence in their health providers. From 2011 to 2012, inpatient hospital admissions decreased from 31 to 6. Increasing numbers of community members are requesting to participate in Witaya Care.
Peterson is currently a Family Nurse Practitioner and Witaya Care Coordinator for the Shakopee Dakota Clinic in Prior Lake. Peterson and her colleagues recently signed a memorandum of understanding with St. Gertrude’s Health and Rehabilitation Center and they are currently working on other partnerships.
“The goal for 2015 is to teach other tribal communities to provide the same model of care. This model could benefit many populations including mental health groups as well. I hope that this program will eventually spread nationally — it is a viable and sustainable model of care,” she says.