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Southern Plains Tribal Health Board Program Coordinator Janice Knight (left) and Specialist Yonavea Hawkins (Photo by Catherine Divis)

Connecting Tribal Communities With Health Services

Simple health screenings and education could be saving the lives of Native Americans throughout Oklahoma.

Free and basic blood pressure screenings conducted by public health specialists from Southern Plains Tribal Health Board have helped identify people at risk of heart attack and stroke. The specialists, who travel across the state, also link people with HIV to the transportation and resources they needed to better care for themselves.

“We know we’re doing something good,” specialist Yonavea Hawkins says. “We’re always looking for ways to connect with as many people as we can.” 

Since 2015, the health board has partnered with the Oklahoma Caring Foundation and its Caring Van program to help citizens of the state’s 39 tribes access preventive health care. The Caring Van has served about 2,300 tribal citizens by providing health services and collaborating with health departments, nonprofit organizations, the Indian Health Service and Urban Indian and Tribal health centers. 

The Oklahoma Caring Foundation is a nonprofit organization administered as an in-kind gift by Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Oklahoma. These companies are independent licensees of the Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association. 

“The Caring Van’s partnership with Southern Plains Tribal Health Board has expanded our geographic reach, while increasing the amount of lifesaving preventive services that we offer,” says Amy Pulliam, Caring Foundation manager. “We are proud to partner with the Southern Plains Tribal Health Board to serve Native Americans in Oklahoma.”

Besides health screenings, testing and education, the health board uses the van to provide immunizations, dental screenings and education, hearing screenings and food. The van reaches destinations so remote that they’re only accessible by dirt paths. 

“Without the Caring Van, many people wouldn’t have access to these services,” says Hawkins, “especially the elderly and small children who don’t have transportation.” 

Years of outreach have helped Hawkins and program coordinator Janice Knight build trust in the communities they serve. People look forward to their visits and are willing to have conversations and share personal information and concerns, Knight says. 

They appreciate any information Hawkins and Knight can provide. 

As they prepared to leave one rural community, residents asked for the leftover educational materials so they could share it with others. 

“They were so starved for basic health information,” Hawkins recalls. “That was one of the strongest emotional days on the van.” 

Knight added, “It makes you feel good because you know you’re helping people.” 

A Division of Health Care Service Corporation, a Mutual Legal Reserve Company, an Independent Licensee of the Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association