Two of the first therapists to work in the Indian Health Service (I.H.S.) were CAPT Walter Sekiya who established Rehabilitation Services at Gallup Indian Medical Center in 1960 and CAPT Richard "Dick" Mazzacone who arrived in 1968 to work in a 10'x10' space allocated for Physical Therapy at the Phoenix Indian Medical Center. I.H.S. Rehabilitation Services programs began small often with only one physical therapist servicing all needs at large medical facilities. The first occupational therapist started in the I.H.S. at Gallup Indian Medical Center in the early 1960's, and Speech Language Pathology and Audiology was first initiated in the I.H.S. in the Billing's Area in the early 1970's. A statistically relevant formula for rehabilitation space and staffing to population ratio was developed in the 1970's. These formulas were utilized in new facility development, insuring rehabilitation needs were addressed. Ahead of the times, this requirement is now a component for hospital and clinic accreditation.
A common philosophy among the early I.H.S. therapists was the development and sharing of skills which stimulated camaraderie between rehabilitation professionals and fostered the growth of state of the art, evidenced based services. I.H.S. Physical Rehabilitation Service Providers of the 1970's and 1980's provided services which included: wound care, diabetic foot care, orthopedic specialty clinics, spinal cord clinics, well baby clinics, and orthotic and prosthetic clinics. Therapists also recognized health needs outside the clinic, and provided community services in the Bureau of Indian Affairs schools such as sports screenings, local school career days, and tribal nursing homes.
In the 1980's, as a direct result of the Indian Health Service Scholarship Program, more American Indian and Alaskan Natives (AI/AN) completed physical therapy professional degrees and entered into service providing much needed staffing in the I.H.S. Rehabilitation Departments. This initiative allowed for physical therapy staffing to be filled in the Aberdeen, Alaska, Albuquerque, Billings, Navajo, Oklahoma, and Phoenix areas where new positions were being developed.
During the 1980's, therapists developed registries for pediatrics and adults with disabilities, which helped identify the needs for population groups at local service units and served to justify staffing. Legislation in the 1990's resulted in increased Tribal administration of health care programs. Many of these tribal programs have included physical rehabilitation services at new tribal facilities. Today there are over 70 rehabilitation staff in the I.H.S.
For more information visit the IHS Fact Sheets