Sanford Health supports, celebrates Native American cultures

Native patient liaison & community events help all feel welcome

Four Native American men form a drum circle in the lobby of Sanford Children's Hospital.

Sanford Health has had the second Monday in October circled on its calendar for years.

The health care provider enthusiastically celebrates Native American Day, hosting in-person celebrations across its communities. But because of the pandemic, many celebrations are postponed until next year.

So, the second Monday in October will look different this year. But what isn’t different is Sanford Health’s continued support and care of Native American cultures.

Joseph “Joe” Beaudreau is both a patient relations specialist as well as the Sanford Health Indian health advocate in Bemidji, Minnesota. He’s also an Anishinaabe from the White Earth Ojibwe.

A Sanford employee since 2004, he’s seen Sanford’s continued support for Native American cultures over the past 16 years firsthand. And that support makes him proud to work at Sanford.

“I am very, very grateful that organizations such as us, as big as we are, take the time to honor people that have often felt left out and not heard.

“To make them part of who we are. Know they’re part of the community who come here. We’re going to take care of you,” said Beaudreau.

Community celebrations

He’s not only seen the support continue in his 16 years as a Sanford employee, he’s also seen it grow. For example, Sanford Health hosts an annual powwow for the entire Bemidji community.

“We invite drummers and dancers, and we make a bunch of food, and that’s how it’s done,” he said. “We get together, we eat together, we watch the dancers, and we have a good time.”

He says this is Sanford’s mission lived out: helping anyone who needs it.

“That’s an honor for the health care providers here. To prove to different cultures who we are.

“That’s not just the Indigenous. I’m talking about every race, every age. I’m talking about everybody that has their own gender preference and how they live their life. It doesn’t matter. We still take care of you,” Beaudreau said.

Listen: American Indian health: Podcast

Margaret Kropuenske is the clinic director of the women’s specialty clinics at Sanford Health and is from the Oglala Sioux tribe. She says in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, Sanford Health has hosted celebrations each year.

“We’ve had Native American dancers come and dance. Just seeing the smiles on everybody’s faces. The patients, the visitors, the staff. To have that come to our location, it was a great experience. It made me feel proud,” said Kropuenske.

Building relationships

But Sanford’s support for the Native American culture doesn’t stop at the patients. In Kropuenske’s 30 years at Sanford Health, she’s always felt valued.

“The support that I’ve received, the staff has received, as an organization has been great,” she said. “I feel very well supported and I just know that this is where I need to be. This is my family.”

Beaudreau says his current role as Indian health advocate is the only one of its kind in all of Sanford’s communities. He says that proves Sanford’s commitment to building strong and caring relationships with Native American communities.

More: American Indian health advocates: Bridging the gap

In his position, he helps Native American patients with any of their health care questions or needs. His position is particularly vital for the Bemidji area, since three of the largest reservations in the Midwest surround the Minnesota city.

“There’s an estimated 20 to 25,000 people living in our region, and many of them coming here our health care. So, on a given day just on our inpatient side of things, there’s 20 to 25 Native Americans in our inpatient hospital. That makes up about 25% of our capacity.”

To build and strengthen relationships, Beaudreau is a firm believer in the power of connection. And this year, he says finding connection is more important than ever.

“The work that we’re doing with diversity and inclusion is really starting to blossom. I see how our providers treat Native Americans and other people of color. I don’t see any overt acts of racism. Health care has provided a really good example of that. You’re sick, you’re hurt, let us take care of you.”

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Posted In Bemidji, Community, People & Culture, Rural Health, Sioux Falls

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