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Indian Health Service The Federal Health Program for American Indians and Alaska Natives

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Therapist working with man

Physical Therapy Services

The physical therapy rehabilitation staff, who are employed with the Indian Health Service, work largely on the Navajo Reservation, Alaska, Oklahoma, and Phoenix Areas.

As the rehabilitation services have evolved over the years with increased programs and staff members, the scope of services continues to expand. Services continue to include specialty care in diabetes, geriatrics, wound care, pediatrics, specialty hand and foot care, health promotion and wellness programs, orthopedics, neurological rehabilitation, cardiopulmonary rehabilitation, amputee rehabilitation, pain clinics, and clinical education.

Further, services have grown to include new programs in women’s health and phase two cardiac rehabilitation. New programs in rehabilitation services have been added each year for the past five years.

Occupational Therapy Services

Occupational therapists have been employed with the Indian Health Service for more than 55 years in diverse clinical settings in almost all I.H.S. Service Units. Occupational therapists are primarily stationed in clinics as the sole occupational therapist and these positions require individuals who are strong self-starters and advocates for the promotion of occupational therapy and the benefits of their unique skills.

Occupational therapists provide services in some of the following areas of practice: orthopedics, neuro-rehabilitation, hand therapy, orthotic fabrication, burn trauma, assistive technology, and pediatrics. These constitute many of the services occupational therapy provides to many of the remote and underserved areas of the country where Indian Health Hospitals are located. Women's health, wellness clinics, mental health and substance abuse are further examples of programs in need of further occupational therapy development.

Respiratory Services

The Respiratory Therapist is a healthcare provider that deals with the cardiopulmonary(lungs and heart) status of the patient care population. The Respiratory Therapist can be found in the inpatient setting or the outpatient setting. They are part of the first responder team in an emergency, whether it be in the Emergency Room, Intensive Care Unit, Operating Room or in the Inpatient setting.

Respiratory Therapists are involved in ventilator management, aerosol therapy, Oxygen therapy, chest physiotherapy, arterial blood gas draws and/or analysis. They are also instrumental as a team member working in conjunction with the patient physician, nurse or other healthcare practitioners.

Respiratory Therapists can also be found involved with patient care diagnostics such as electrocardiograms(EKGs) and pulmonary function testing(PFTs).

Respiratory Therapists help in the treatment plans of a variety of patient populations ranging from newborns to geriatrics. They are involved in treatment plans of asthma, Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Diseases(COPD), traumas, post-operative care and heart disease.

Speech-Language Pathology Services

The speech pathologist provides a variety of inpatient and outpatient services. This care includes: assessment and treatment of patients throughout the age spectrum with problems in the areas of receptive and expressive language, articulation, voice, fluency, oral-motor functioning, swallowing and feeding, auditory and/or visual processing and memory and cognition/communication.

Specialty programs include: videofluoroscopy of swallowing function, breast feeding evaluation/treatment, palliative care as well as augmentative communication assessment and treatment.

Audiology Services

Audiologists within Indian Health Service began with the Sensory Disabilities Otitus Media program in the 1968 and 1969. This program investigated and brought to Congress the disproportionate occurrences’ of Otitus Media within the Native American population. In 1971, the National Effort for Treatment of Middle Ear Disease was approved by Congress. In 1973, the first Indian Health Service audiologists were directly hired. Since the early 1960s, audiologists have been involved in the Alaskan and lower 48 states treatment programs for middle ear disease.

Currently, the Indian Health Service audiologists are a discipline within the therapist category, our areas of responsibility include but not limited to clinical support. Meaning, as clinicians we are gate keepers that provide critical site of lesion testing that support differential diagnosis and follow up by otolaryngologists and other medical professionals. Indian Health Service audiologists participate in all levels of hearing health care from newborn infant screening programs, hearing conservation programs, aural rehabilitation and evaluation and provision of amplification.

Indian Health Service audiologists function in a number of environments, some work in a rehabilitation department setting while the majority tend to function as part of ear, nose and throat departments or stand alone services. However, the common thread is the interaction necessary at all levels for the appropriate medical treatment of the whole patient.

Indian Health Service audiologists will experience a rewarding professional growth rarely matched in other areas of practice.