By Krystal Spring/Havre Daily Newsfirstname.lastname@example.org
ROCKY BOY AGENCY - The Chippewa Cree Tribe will soon take a more proactive approach to preventing diabetes on Rocky Boy's Indian Reservation, thanks to two grants from the Indian Health Service, part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
More than $330,000 will be funded each year for five consecutive years, beginning in 2005.
The Chippewa Cree was one of several tribes from across the country competing for $150 million in grants from IHS's Special Diabetes Program for Indians. Individual grants for primary prevention of diabetes and prevention of cardiovascular disease in people with diabetes were offered. Rocky Boy applied for both grants.
Tribes could also unite efforts to compete for a consortium grant, where grant money and resources would be pooled among tribes if approved. Rocky Boy teamed with the Crow and Fort Belknap reservations in applying for the group grant.
"We were actually funded for all three grants, but because of the limitations of the grant, we could only accept two," Dr. James Eastlick, chief executive officer of the Rocky Boy Health Board, said earlier this week. "To be chosen for both the individual grants and the consortium grant is quite an honor."
Rocky Boy was one of just three tribes in the Rocky Mountain region, which includes eight tribes, to receive individual grant funding. The Blackfeet and the Salish and Kootenai tribes also received similar grants.
The Rocky Boy Health Board accepted the individual $330,000 grant to pursue a diabetes prevention program on the reservation. The tribe has a diabetes program in place, but most of its efforts have been focused on treatment, said Tracy Burns, a nutritionist in Rocky Boy. The grant money will fund the implementation of a diabetes prevention program at the Rocky Boy Health Clinic. The three-tribe consortium will use another $330,000 grant to focus on cardiovascular disease prevention among their people.
"Diabetes is a devastating disease that affects every person in Indian Country," Alvin Windy Boy Sr., Chippewa Cree tribal chairman and chairman of the National Tribal Leaders Diabetes Committee, said this week. "Too many times we're not able to decide what's best for our people in Indian Country. These grants will allow us to add to our existing programs and develop new innovative projects."
Diabetes is one of the major health issues facing American Indians across the nation, including the Rocky Boy community. Indians are 2.3 times more likely to have diabetes than non-Hispanic whites of similar age, according to statistics from the American Diabetes Association.
Jerad Gillen, a physical therapist at the Rocky Boy Health Clinic who also works with the tribe's diabetes program, said more than 350 people in Rocky Boy have been diagnosed with diabetes. In 2003 alone, 40 to 50 people were diagnosed with the chronic disease. And the numbers continue to rise at an alarming rate as diabetes affects the tribe's younger generation.
"We have a fast-growing younger population in Rocky Boy and we've seen diabetes fall lower and lower into the younger age range," Windy Boy said.
Rocky Boy has made strides in helping to combat diabetes on the reservation. Last year Rocky Boy was the only tribe in Montana recognized by IHS for the high quality of its diabetes education program, which was also ranked ninth in the nation. A multidisciplinary diabetes management team was formed in 2000 to help address the problem - finding ways to improve diabetes treatment and offer preventative strategies to the prediabetic Indian population. The Rocky Boy Public Schools menu was changed three years ago to include more fruits and vegetables, lower-fat foods and non-processed foods. All meals served at the schools are now homemade and nutritious.
"We probably have one of the healthiest school lunch programs in the nation," Gillen said.
The tribal grant will fund additional staff members for the existing diabetes program and a new educational program.
Gillen said the new prevention program will have two main components - a 16-week intensive lifestyle change course for those who have already been diagnosed with diabetes and a less intensive community education component.
Gillen said the diabetic patients will be properly educated about what foods they should and should not eat and what exercise activities can decrease the risk of diabetes complications. Case managers and a physical activities specialist will work with the diabetics during the 16-week program.
"We're going to mold the program to Rocky Boy, teaching them lifestyle and behavioral changes," he said.
The second component is community-based, with workshops and diabetes screenings. Rocky Boy health officials said it's important to identify the prediabetic population, so it has a better chance of preventing the disease.
"Everything we do here is based on community need," said Lena Belcourt, who works with the Rocky Boy Health Department. "We're trying to help Indian people find the health that we need."
The consortium grant will focus on ways diabetics can reduce their risk factor for cardiovascular disease. Gillen said the diabetic patients will have their blood tested and vital signs carefully monitored, helping to decrease the risk of cardiovascular complications.
The planning stage for the new prevention program will begin next month. Eastlick said the grant requires the program to be implemented October 2005.