Servicing the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation

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By Marie Luhmann and Liz Arnold, February 2012

Thru funding received from the AVON BHOP program, The Norma J Vinger Center for Breast Care and Global Partners staff of Gundersen Lutheran Health System in La Crosse Wisconsin, have been able to bring to life an innovative program to the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota. This program brings Gundersen Lutheran staff and its mobile mammography unit to the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation and offers mammogram services. To make this program a reality Gundersen Lutheran has partnered with several other organizations including: Rapid City Regional Cancer Care Institutes Walking Forward Program; Indian Health Services on Pine Ridge; Oglala Sioux Tribe Health Administration; and Sanford Health in Sioux Falls South Dakota.

Pine Ridge Indian Reservation is the eighth largest reservations in the United States and is located in the southwest corner of South Dakota, approximately 10 hours from La Crosse Wisconsin. The reservation has an 80 percent unemployment rate and has the second poorest county in the United States, Shannon County. The per capital income of Shannon County is $6,286. On the reservation the life expectancy is 48 for men and 52 for women. Breast cancer is the leading cause of cancer morbidity and mortality among American Indian women and only 42 percent of eligible Pine Ridge women have received a mammogram in the last two years.

Gundersen Lutheran's Global Partners Program started working with Pine Ridge in 2008. Since that time, there have been over 25 volunteer medical teams that have gone to Pine Ridge for a week at a time and provided medical services free of charge. Bringing the mobile mammography unit to Pine Ridge seemed a natural expansion of services to the work that was already being done on the reservation. Prior to the unit's arrival at the reservation, a nursing student and Pine Ridge native, was hired as an outreach worker to assist with promoting the event and scheduling women for mammograms. This was possible with the assistance of the Oglala Sioux tribe health administration. Having a local, Native American, woman involved in the program brought a lot of credibility and trust that would have been difficult otherwise for an outside group to achieve.