By KENDRA SITTON | Downtown & Uptown News
The San Diego American Indian Health Center brought on new members to its leadership team in July, including Del Cerro area resident Kevin LaChapelle as CEO and Downtown resident Martin Furey as program development director.
Both men are focused on continuing to provide patient-centered and culturally sensitive healthcare to the Downtown-based health center as well as adding new programs and better cohesion among the center’s departments in the future.
LaChapelle is working on integrating the medical, dental and behavioral health departments so they are not three separate silos.
“Teams are actually meeting to discuss the treatment for patients so that we actually have everybody involved. And then also trying to coordinate appointments. So for example, if someone says ‘I’ve got a behavioral appointment and medical appointment,’ we can we coordinate them to coincide with each other so the patient can just make one visit,” the new CEO said.
Among new partnerships with local nonprofits and other agencies, Furey is working on opening a monthly breast cancer health clinic. The health center also received a grant to expand HIV prevention and cemented a partnership with UCSD to rapidly connect recently infected people with care.
Additionally, with funding from the Indian Health Service, the center will use two mobile vans to bring tests to the community. They are hiring six new staff members for this.
“We’re going to be able to test, essentially, the entire census of our clinic and other folks in hard to reach or isolated areas as well. This I hope will really help move things forward in COVID testing in our region and I hope that it will have a really major impact for Native American populations specifically,” Furey said.
Already, the center has adapted to new challenges faced during the pandemic. Behavioral health services became virtual and even some dental visits. Demand for dental care has dropped while depression and anxiety have increased demand for behavioral health services. The center has brought on new staff to meet this demand.
Mobile public health nurses are being utilized to visit patients homes to provide them with cell phones and facilitate visits with patients’ doctors. They are also delivering fresh produce to elderly people through partnership a with Coastal Roots.
One-third of patients at the center are Native American and the remaining patients are other members of the community. Native Americans have been disproportionately impacted by the coronavirus and many faced issues of poverty and generational trauma even before the pandemic began.
The center strives to provide patient-centered healthcare that includes aspects of Native American culture. The facilities are decorated with pieces by Native American artists and includes a medicine garden. In the behavioral health department, support groups include a drumming circle and a program that connects younger people to elders. The Native American staff at the clinic are highly valued.
“The Native Americans that are on our team… have deep insight as far as historical trauma and the different things that patients have been through, and it really helps them to have an understanding of what’s the best approach to take so that they have a very strong quality of life,” LaChapelle said.
An interesting consequence of this approach is that many non-Native patients become interested in Native culture and strive to learn more.
For all patients, the center works to treat them holistically.
LaChapelle said he is “helping develop a team that can come together and engaging the patients in their care so that we really have patients that are not only involved in their care, but they’re really listened to, so that we can include them as a part of the treatment team.”
LaChapelle previously served as national director of care experience, patient safety and risk for Kaiser Permanente.
“Our goal is to really be a health center that is forward thinking that’s data driven so that we can really hone in and really sharpen our skills,” LaChapelle said.
Furey has a long history of working in nonprofits in the San Diego area which has helped him forge new partnerships.
“We’re pushing ahead on every front and actually having a lot of success despite the challenges that everybody’s facing right now,” Furey said.
— Kendra Sitton can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.