Reaching an Isolated Population
By Rebecca A. Clay
The area served by the Tanana Chiefs Conference (TCC)—a traditional tribal consortium of 42 villages in Alaska’s interior—covers 235,000 square miles or one-third of the Nation’s largest state.
Although that area includes the urban center of Fairbanks, many inhabitants live in tiny villages accessible only in the summertime and only then by plane or boat.
With the help of a grant from SAMHSA, TCC seeks to bring Screening, Brief Intervention, and Referral to Treatment (SBIRT) services to as many of these inhabitants as possible. Called Seyeets Nezoonh—Athabascan for “When my breathing is good, I can run a long time”—the project focuses primarily on the area’s Alaska Native and Native American population.
“Our prevalence rate for substance dependency is a little higher than the normal,” said Interim Project Director Shannon Sommer. “Our people—my people—need this.”
Currently, the project focuses on screening patients at the Chief Andrew Isaac Health Center and a women’s clinic in Fairbanks. “People come in to town to do any shopping and to get their primary health care needs met,” explained Ms. Sommer.
When patients sign in for their regular appointments, they undergo a three-question screening. Those who score positive meet with a behavioral health consultant for a more thorough screening of substance abuse and mental health concerns, then receive health education, a brief therapy session, or referral to more intensive treatment.
Next the project will begin spreading out to the villages. The first will be a larger “hub” village with a doctor on staff. Next year, the project plans to bring SBIRT to two smaller villages.
In these isolated villages, health aides will provide the initial screenings. For individuals who need more help, the solution will be telehealth: Patients will communicate with clinicians back in Fairbanks via phone or Internet.
Find out more about SAMHSA’s SBIRT program.