Heritage Shares Its Research Centers to
Help Improve Outcomes for All
Heritage launched two new centers this year with the aim of sharing the university’s expertise and research with outside organizations to help improve the local community. They include the Center for a New Washington and the Center for Native Health and Culture. According to Kay Bassett, director of special initiatives at Heritage, “Much of the research the university completes revolves around common needs and purposes. We can be an Important resource in helping local and statewide communities address any number of public issues.
The Center for a New Washington
The Center for a New Washington, which opened late last spring, began its mission by providing several one-day forums, including a series funded by
the Carnegie Corporation to address healthcare, education and water issues in the Yakima Valley. Each of the multiple forums brought together a full house of experts and interested community members to brainstorm ways of working collaboratively in order to improve existing local systems and services.
“Bringing together people from all sides of an issue and putting them in one room allows for really frank conversations about the concerns being faced,” said Bassett. “The highest value of these forums is in enabling us to work together.”
Basset points to the center’s forum on education as an example. The event brought together a cross section of the community, including K-12 and postsecondary educators, elected officials, leaders from the faith community, and directors of non-profits and business development agencies, who then worked in small groups discussing single issues, such as how to get kids from high school to college. The no-holds-barred conversations focused on the many challenges local students face, such as college readiness, parental involvement, even how early is early enough to get kids thinking about college.
“We didn’t expect to solve any particular issue with these meetings,” said Bassett. “Our goal was simply to get the conversations started. We do plan to check back with participants in a few months to see how they have incorporated what they learned into their daily business.”
The Center for Native Health and Culture
Heritage’s other new resource hub is the Center for Native Health and Culture. When the center held its grand opening just last October, it was already
in full swing with two major health studies, as well as research roundtables for faculty professional development and a student research project on
sustainable foods, health and culture.
According to Dr. Michelle Jacob, director of the center, “In many cases Native Americans make up such a small portion of the people who are part of national health studies that it is difficult, if not impossible, to study health questions about this population in a meaningful way.”
Such is the case of the national study on heart health for Native Americans that Dr. Jacob brought to the center. The largest epidemiological dataset
study on this population ever collected, it involves 30 tribal communities in Arizona, Oklahoma, and North and South Dakota. The study looks at
data points like the prevalence of diabetes, treatment regimes and the stress levels of the patients.
“We want to understand the relationship between psychological stress and type 2 diabetes and heart disease in Native Americans, as well as their treatments,” Jacob explained. “Understanding the relationship between mind and body will let us know where best to instigate reforms to improve health.”
Doctors have long been aware of the link between diabetes and heart disease in the general population. According to the American Diabetes Association, two out of three people with this disease die from strokes or heart attacks. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services reports the likelihood of being diagnosed with type 2 diabetes as an adult Native American or Alaskan Native is more than twice that of the general population. That number grows to nine times higher for children between the ages of ten and 19.
Locally, the Yakama Healthy Heart Program’s “Special Diabetes Program for Indians” is helping patients reduce their risk of heart disease. The program is one of 30 in the nation.
“Of these programs, the one at the Yakama Nation is having the greatest success,” claims Dr. Jacob. “It has been enjoying strong participation,
more stringent glucose management and fabulous outcomes. We want to know what it is about this program that makes it so successful. Ultimately, it will allow other programs to replicate their success.” Dr. Jacob is working with the Yakama Healthy Heart Program to collect data from both participants
in the diabetes program and those who have left, plus from the staff. She is looking for the factors that lead to higher patient retention.
Both heart studies are long-term projects. Dr. Jacob expects initial findings from the national Strong Heart Study will be released early this year to the tribal communities involved in the study. The data from the Yakama study is now being entered for analysis. She expects to see primary results by spring. For more information, please visit: heritage.edu/community.aspx