American Indian health advocates: Bridging the gap

Annual Native American powwow honors medical caregivers in Northern Minnesota community.

American Indian health advocates: Bridging the gap

Joe Beaudreau is a people person.

“I love working with people, I always have,” he said. “That’s what I’m meant to do. That’s my purpose, that’s my God-given talent.”

His friendly personality makes him a perfect fit for his role as a patient relations specialist and Indian health advocate at Sanford Health in Bemidji, Minnesota.

Beaudreau has been working in health care since 1980. He joined Sanford Health in 2004 and became a paramedic a year later, before taking on his current position to help improve American Indian health care.

His job now is to serve as a liaison between surrounding native communities and the hospital, working with doctors, staff, social workers and chaplains to resolve any complaints or concerns that may arise from patients. Red Lake, Leech Lake and White Earth are the three biggest tribes in northern Minnesota that often seek care from Sanford Bemidji.

“People in the native communities refer to me as a voice. My role is to be a voice not just for the patient but for the families and the people that live in these communities,” Beaudreau said.

Providing support

As a member of the Ojibwe tribe, Beaudreau is familiar with the Native American culture and understands the hesitancies that are often present among these communities due to their historical pasts.

“To have a voice to help navigate through the health care systems is an important thing,” Beaudreau said. “Not that we always have the answer and can guarantee that everything is going to go the way we want it to in medicine, but when people know there’s an advocate there it brings them a sense of relief. It just helps knowing there’s someone to listen and better identify with.”

Beaudreau says his job is to ensure all patients know they are in good hands and have the best possible patient experience. He assists hospital staff in providing emotional and spiritual support, helping families make arrangements for spiritual care and aiding in communication with health care teams regarding a patient’s status or clarification of medical terminology.

Unity, healing and forgiveness

As one of only two Indian health advocates in Minnesota, Beaudreau’s role is an important one. His passion for helping people keeps him motivated each day to help provide better care to every person who walks through the hospital doors.

“My idea is for unity and bridging the gap so we can understand and communicate and take care of each other, especially in the health care community,” he said. “Break down the barriers and build the bridges.”

With Bemidji, and the United States in general, becoming more and more diverse, Beaudreau believes developing a sense of community, togetherness and understanding is the first step to improving health care for everyone.

“Mind, body and soul — that’s what makes a person whole. We do a lot of treating the body but there’s two other factors there. We have to develop more ways to sit at the table and talk about these things,” Beaudreau said. “I believe in unity and healing and forgiveness. We all come from different backgrounds and different histories, we have to learn to embrace that and understand that.”

Healing powwows

For over 15 years, Sanford Bemidji and area tribes have been hosting healing powwows. These events are intended to honor physicians, health care workers and holistic healers who provide healing in the Bemidji community. Sanford Bemidji employees, community members and the Red Lake, Leech Lake and White Earth tribes are all invited to attend.

The powwow features a feast, color guard presentations, dancing and drum group performances from the different reservations.

This year’s healing powwow is on Thursday, Aug. 16 from 2 to 6 p.m. at the Sanford Bemidji Medical Center.

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Posted In Family Medicine, Rural Health, Sanford Stories