NorthLakes Community Clinic is a Community Health Center operating in rural northern Wisconsin, the territory of eight of the eleven Wisconsin’s Native American Tribes; Bad River Band of Lake Superior Chippewa, Red Cliff Band of Lake Superior Chippewa, St. Croix Chippewa Indians of Wisconsin, Lac Courte Oreilles Band of Lake Superior Chippewa, Lac Du Flambeau Band of Chippewa, Menominee Indian Tribe of Wisconsin, Mole Lake Band of Lake Superior Chippewa, and Forest County Potawatomi. Each of the tribes also have clinics that operate as a Tribal/Community Health Center.
Community Health Centers were created as a result of the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964. The intention of this Act was to prohibit discrimination based on race, color, religion and national origin, and to ensure full equality for all. Almost 60 years later, our communities are still working to reverse longstanding inequities in opportunities and resources which have created economic barriers for Native Americans. Chronic health disparities need to be added to that list, which are further exacerbated by the fact that the health care industry’s workforce does not accurately reflect the diversity of the communities it serves.
Local and tribal health care providers have a constant challenge in recruiting and retaining highly qualified health care professionals on the front lines: Medical and Dental Assistants, Community Health Workers, Patient Service Representatives and Health Care Information Technologists, among others. This is an enormous issue that we must face and address to benefit all of our patients and the economies of our communities.
The Board of Directors and leadership at NorthLakes recognizes how disparities in educational opportunities uniquely affect Native communities. And as health care providers, they are especially interested in creating better access and visibility to health care careers for Native Americans. One step to address this issue of under-representation was the creation of NorthLakes Indigenous Health Care Scholarship.
“The initial idea was to raise $4000 for a couple of scholarships for enrolled tribal health care students in Wisconsin. We did not count on the overwhelming response from our NorthLakes officers and providers (both retired and active) and other local health care staff who want to see Native Americans in the health care workplace.” Said Reba Rice, CEO of NorthLakes Community Clinic. She added, “Due to their generosity, we changed our approach. We set up an endowment scholarship, which will last forever. We are now looking to raise $100,000 which would disburse $4000 not for one year, but forever. At this time we have raised close to $77,000 dollars from health care providers and other donors.”
The NorthLakes Indigenous Health Care Scholarship will be managed by the American Indian College Fund, (AICF) a nonprofit organization that helps Native American students, providing them with support through scholarships and funding toward higher education. Their additional scholarship resources and relationships established with tribal and nontribal schools will help increase access and visibility to throughout our service area in Wisconsin.
“The scholarship will make a difference in the Native scholars’ lives. It will impact our economy by building a more diverse health care workforce. Removing barriers to rewarding careers and improved health are at the core of our mission.” Stated Dr. Deb Dryer, Chief Medical Officer for NorthLakes Community Clinic.