HOOPA VALLEY INDIAN RESERVATION, Calif.
– The Hupa people, a Native American tribe, are one of the oldest cultures in California. For a month the Hupa received medical services from Soldiers with the Massachusetts Army National Guard’s 182nd Medical Company (Area Support) and Medical Command (MEDCOM).
Beginning in June and ending in the beginning of July, the Soldiers, working two teams, each in a two week rotation, augmented the medical staff at the K’ima:w Medical Center as well as local ambulance crews.
The medical center is located on the Hoopa Valley Indian Reservation, the largest Native American reservation in California, and provides health care to more than 5,000 residents who reside on the reservation and in the surrounding communities.
“Our mission here is to support Hoopa’s clinic and at the same time give our Soldiers the chance to really use the medical skills they’ve been training on all year,” said Sgt. 1st Class. Kelly Babineau, a resident of Charlton, Mass., the noncommissioned officer in charge of the second medical team. “This enables our Soldiers to transition from seeing and practicing in the classroom to practicing and applying in a real-world tour of duty.”
Furthermore, the opportunity to spend annual training in a clinical setting where daily patient care is hands-on was especially valuable for Soldiers who do not work in the medical field on the civilian side.
“I’ve been able to do things here that I haven’t done with real patients since going through school about five years ago, like administering injections and drawing blood,” said Spc. Michael D. Eaton Jr, a combat medic with the 182nd MC(AS). When he is not performing his Guard duties, Eaton is employed as an air conditioning technician.
“On most annual training missions, my patients are other Soldiers and there’s already a rapport between us, but working on the reservation has made me learn how to build relationships with new patients from a totally different culture,” said Eaton, a resident of Methuen, “Some of them are pretty curious about the military and ask me why I joined.”
The K’ima:w Medical Center, which suffers from a shortage of medical staff, serves a region struggling with financial constraints.
“The median income in Hoopa is lower than the rest of Humboldt County and the unemployment rate is higher, so in that regard we are considered a disadvantaged community,” said Mihail Soare, Chief Executive Officer of K’ima:w Medical Center. “The biggest benefit for us is the healthcare support from the military teams. I believe the military also benefits from the interactions they have with our medical professionals here and leave with a better cultural understanding,”
This lack of available medical resources and the local economic conditions are the reason the Soldiers are here. For the past five years, the clinic staff has been supplemented by groups of
Reserve Component medical personnel throughout the year.
This support is due to a Department of Defense program known as the Innovative Readiness Training.
The IRT mission is to provide medical/healthcare/human services, as well as engineering and transportation assistance to underserved communities in the United States. This allows the Servicemembers the chance to keep their skills current.
“We are in the clinic taking care of patients and working with the providers every day out here, enhancing our skills,” said Staff Sgt. Mark Leahey, a resident of Worcester who serves as a combat medic with the 182nd MC (AS).
Also, the community benefits from the IRT program.
“Some of our patient’s schedule their appointments when they know the military is here, because they know they will get in to be seen quickly,” said Dr. Eva Smith, a member of the Shinnecock tribe of New York, who serves as Hoopa’s Medical Director since 1998.
The Hoopa mission encompassed real-world training for more than the medics. Spc. Christina Smith, a behavioral health specialist with the 182nd MC (AS), spent her two weeks working alongside Hoopa’s experienced clinical and community therapists.
“I got a chance to interact with clients and observe group therapy sessions focused on substance abuse and addiction recovery, which are concerns in this community,” said Smith, a resident of Fall River.
The interaction Smith has received has played an important role in her training.
“I believe that the more I can broaden my cultural horizon, the better advocate I can be for our Soldiers when they need me. I’ve learned skills here that I will take home to Massachusetts,” said Smith.
The Hoopa Valley Reservation is in the heart of the tribe’s traditional territory and the people have maintained their culture and traditions.
Silis-chi-tawn Jackson, the Hoopa Tribal Museum Curator and a member of the tribe provided cultural awareness training to aid the Soldiers in treating and interacting with the Hupa people.
“Although there is still distrust of the government because of our history, the people have respect for the military and many Native Americans choose to enlist.” Jackson added that the people in Hoopa Valley are thankful for the support they receive from the military.
Massachusetts Army National Guard physician assistants, nurses, and medics treated over 800 patients during the brief mission in Hoopa. Soldiers assisted the clinic in administrative projects, radiology and dental procedures. The Soldiers also trained with local ambulance crews, and supported Hoopa’s Annual Health Fair where medics conducted health screenings for members of the community.