Traditional Healing Clinic Celebrates 20 Years of Service

Since 1997, Southcentral Foundation’s Traditional Healing Clinic has grown from two to 14 employees. Pictured left to right: Tribal Dr. Allison Kelliher, Tribal Dr. Rose Garcia, Tribal Dr. Steven Booth, Tribal Dr. Lisa Dolchok, Angela Michaud, Tribal Dr. Sarah Smith, Buz Daney, Tribal Dr. Lois Law, Mary Sears, Haily Olson, Tara Durand (not pictured: Tribal Dr. Kay Wallis, Sarah Roehl, and Julie Wahl).

Alaska Native people know that traditional ways of healing are effective. For years, Southcentral Foundation has explored the traditional wisdom of Elders and studied the healing approaches that Alaska Native people have practiced for generations. In 1991, an Indian Health Service grant helped SCF fund a survey that revealed traditional healing practices are highly valued among customer-owners, which eventually led to the establishment of a traditional healing program at SCF.

Before the traditional healing program was in place, a health care system that incorporated traditional Alaska Native medicine into a western medical care system was not available anywhere. That changed in 1997 when SCF received a grant that funded its first Tribal doctor, Rita Blumenstein. She explored the integration of traditional healing into the western medical environment. Lisa Dolchok was the second Tribal doctor to be hired to fulfill this vision. Together, they came to form the traditional healing team at SCF.

As the demand for traditional healing grew, so did the program. When SCF expanded the Anchorage Native Primary Care Center in 2001, leadership ensured that traditional healing had a permanent location as an outpatient clinic with its own physical space. Creating and maintaining a traditional healing clinic is supportive of SCF’s commitment to quality.

Traditional healing is personalized to the needs of customer-owners. They typically leave visits with a better understanding of who they are, a necessary step on the journey to wellness. Throughout the program’s 20-year history, SCF’s Tribal doctors have worked in harmony and collaboration with providers, psychiatrists, and other clinicians. The Traditional Healing Clinic is treated like a specialty clinic. In order to receive services there, a customer-owner must be empaneled to a provider and receive a referral for its services.

Today, SCF’s Traditional Healing Clinic is looking at the effectiveness of traditional healing from the customer-owner experience and a health outcomes perspective.

In 2016, the Traditional Healing Clinic completed a comprehensive evaluation in partnership with SCF Data Analysis and Research that revealed customer-owner satisfaction levels to be in the upper 90th percentile. The survey also revealed the effectiveness of the program for the system’s top 10 percent of utilizers; on average, they experienced:

12 fewer specialty visits

4 fewer emergency department visits

6 fewer ambulatory visits

7 fewer primary care center visits

In the 20 years since the Traditional Healing Clinic was put in place, vast improvements to the delivery of culturally-appropriate health services have been implemented for and by Alaska Native people. SCF will continue to use data and research for clinics like traditional healing to provide the best physical, emotional, and spiritual wellness for customer-owners.

by SCF Traditional Healing Clinic

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