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Outreach Program with Native American Communities

About Us

The goal of the Outreach Program is to work collaboratively with community partners to develop sustainable clinical programs, eliminate barriers to care, and support health care needs in local and national American Indian and Alaska Native (AI/AN) communities.

The Shiprock rock formation sitting above the desert at sunrise

Our mission

The Outreach Program is focused on partnering with Indian Health Service (IHS) providers with the goal to provide specialty care education and training thereby increasing the range of conditions IHS clinicians can treat on site. We also work with and listen to local tribal representatives, Native American urban community agencies and advocates to contribute to building sustainable and relevant programs, enhance capacity, eliminate barriers to care, and positively impact the health and well-being of these diverse communities.

The Outreach Program is dedicated to the memory of Phyllis Jen, MD, whose leadership, inspiration, and commitment were central to creating this opportunity to improve the health status of American Indians and Alaska Natives (AI/AN). The program serves as a legacy to how Dr. Jen lived her life reaching out to care for others who need support.

Mission components

About 70% of all AI/AN individuals live in urban areas. The Outreach Program with Native American Communities is taking great strides to break barriers of care for Native Americans living in Massachusetts. We are proud to be partnering with Native American Lifelines and tribal communities to better understand and identify the unique health care needs and barriers to care in these diverse communities. Together we have created a multi-step approach to achieving these goals. Through ongoing dialogues, we are learning from our valued community partners important ways we can meet the unique challenges of our urban Massachusetts and New England AI/AN neighbors.

The Indian Health Service (IHS) is a federal agency within the Department of Health and Human Services that provides comprehensive health care services to over two million AI/ANs in federally recognized tribes. The IHS is an integrated national health care delivery system focused on primary care services. IHS also funds 41 Urban Indian Health Organizations, including Native American Lifelines in Boston.

Collaboration with the IHS

Despite limited resources, Navajo Nation and IHS do an impressive job responding to the health care needs of Native Americans. But they need help.

The mission of our work with the Navajo Area IHS is to improve the health status of the Native American population by matching the critical training and educational needs of IHS hospital providers with volunteer faculty specialists throughout Mass General Brigham.

Through our collaboration with the Navajo Area IHS hospitals in Shiprock and Gallup, NM, and Chinle, AZ, we are increasing the number of patients receiving care not previously available on site and greatly expanding the capacity of IHS physicians to treat both common and complex conditions.

Most physicians at IHS hospitals are general care practitioners. Academic Medical Centers with specialists can be up to four hours of travel from the IHS hospitals and there can be as much as a one-year wait for appointments due to limited resources. Even when care may be available, many patients have travel constraints.

In the Outreach Program model, patients with specialty needs are scheduled for appointments with the IHS provider in advance and our Mass General Brigham clinical specialist works alongside the IHS clinician to treat and train during each patient encounter. Since the program began in 2008, Mass General Brigham faculty volunteers have made hundreds of on-site visits and treated thousands of Native Americans.

Mass General Brigham faculty are eager to host IHS physicians in Boston to allow them to experience cutting-edge medicine and receive intensive training within our own hospitals. Each year IHS clinicians spend time in Boston in a variety of clinical services including substance use disorder, cardiology, radiology, dermatology, emergency medicine, and surgery.

Video conferences

The video conference program offers continued medical education (CME) gratis through live and interactive remote sessions linking Mass General Brigham faculty with multiple IHS sites simultaneously. Weekly CME conference topics are selected by the IHS and include both didactic and challenging case-presentation opportunities. Sessions are recorded, and downloads are available online for ongoing reference in our medical library.

Remote case conferences

Mass General Brigham specialists provide clinical consultation and teaching to assist IHS clinicians treating their patients through remote case review and discussion in a range of clinical services. Often these patients have been seen by the Mass General Brigham specialist during an on-site visit.

My experience volunteering at Shiprock was powerful on so many levels.  I saw firsthand the extraordinary spirituality, empathy, humanity, and respect which infuse every aspect of the care provided and is the core of the Mass General Brigham Indian Health Service collaboration. I am so grateful for the opportunity and can't wait to visit again!

Zeina El-Chemali, MD, MPH
Neuropsychiatrist and Director, McCance Brain Center
Massachusetts General Hospital