Health advocate provides comfort, trust for Native patients

Joseph Beaudreau of Sanford Bemidji is a member of the Ojibwe tribe

Native American man holds up a beaded symbol of his tribe that he keeps in his Sanford Health office.

Joseph Beaudreau keeps a lot of meaningful items in his office. These include a smudge bowl, some sage, and a feather used in ceremonies by him and other members of his White Earth band of Ojibwe tribe.

Beaudreau is Sanford Bemidji’s American Indian health advocate, and these items help connect him with Native American patients at this Sanford hospital.

“If you know the layout of the land here, we are surrounded by three huge reservations in Minnesota, estimated to be 25,000 to 30,000 people on those reservations as of the last census,” said Beaudreau. “So seeing that we have a lot of patients coming from those communities, it was thought that maybe we’re not meeting their needs like we could or should.”

Making the rounds

Sanford Bemidji sees approximately 25 Native American patients every day on average. Beaudreau tries to connect with as many of those patients as he can.

“I try to round at least once a day, if not twice. And so I go and I visit the patients, I do a little triage when I look at my census and I triage to see somebody who may have been here for several days, somebody that is dealing with some chronic issues, maybe an elder here that doesn’t have a lot of family coming to see him,” Beaudreau said.

Building trust one patient at a time

Beaudreau has worked in health care for more than 40 years and has been with Sanford since 2004. He works not just to assist patients on a given day though. He works to build trust with them one-on-one, and to let that trust flow outward to each unique Native American community in and around Bemidji.

“Generationally, historically we’ve suffered. Native American people have suffered from a lot of different traumas,” said Beaudreau. “It does show up in the way they interact, especially with a hospital, an organization such as ours.

“When I took the job about five years ago, I started hearing those comments from people that ‘We’re just glad that you’re there.’ … And so that does build a trust factor, a conduit to establishing a good relationship between myself, Sanford, and those people that come from those communities,” Beaudreau added.

“There’s actually a lot of work to be done in different areas of the outreach. But if we begin by establishing good relationships with these people and using our health care, compassion, and communications to get over some of the barriers of that mistrust, it’s a long time coming.”

Beaudreau is part of that outreach. And he is a perfect example of how one health care provider with a calling for service can impact an entire community.

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Posted In Bemidji, Community, People & Culture, Sanford Stories

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