SANTA FE, N.M. (KRQE) – The problem has long been there, but it took a pandemic to bring widespread attention to the barriers Native Americans face when it comes to health care. “Christus St. Vincent during COVID, the height of the COVID pandemic, was a hub hospital and through that we received a lot of Navajo transfer patients,” Olivia Sloan, the Senior Research Nurse said.
From transportation to internet connectivity, the challenges were crystal clear to the staff inside Christus St. Vincent in Santa Fe. “Through that experience, I think we really saw there were a lot of cultural needs, unique needs to patients, Native American patients, that we had an opportunity to learn more about.”
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As a Native American nurse herself, Sloan knew bridges needed to be built. That’s where a $350,000 grant from Gilead Sciences came into play which could help thousands of Native Americans battling a cancer diagnosis across the state. Providing not just medical care, but emotional and financial support as well. “If our hand-holding and building that bridge gets them to an earlier diagnosis, you know, long-term we hope we reduce poor cancer outcomes for Native Americans,” Sloan said.
While the grant was written for breast cancer patients, Sloan quickly realized the need was far beyond that. The new “Native Health Navigator Program” will not turn anyone away no matter what kind of cancer diagnoses they have. “We wanna make sure we navigate every Native American patient that comes through our doors and support them,” Sloan said.
The program that launched this spring is the first of its kind at Christus St. Vincent. So far Sloan says they’ve received positive feedback from all over the state. “We have had referrals from up north, down south, and we just hope to see more tribal diversity as we grow the program.”
Sloan believes the program, with the help of state and federal organizations, will grow in the future. They hope to add more navigators in the coming years.