Tribal healthcare hits the road: Absentee Shawnee Tribe puts two mobile medical units in service

Absentee Shawnee Tribe
Tribal healthcare hits the road as the Absentee Shawnee Tribe puts two units in service.

The Absentee Shawnee Tribe has purchased two new Mobile Medical Care Units for its Health System to expand services to include COVID Testing and Vaccinations for Tribal members, patients, and the surrounding community.

Funded with the help of allocated CARES Act pandemic funding to both the Tribe and the Tribal Health System, the first MCU arrived in November and the second MCU arrived in December. These units will be used to access hard to reach AST Tribal members located throughout the established five county areas of the Shawnee Service Unit (SSU), comprised of Lincoln, Logan, Pottawatomie, Cleveland, and Oklahoma Counties.

"Our Tribe’s mobile units will be instrumental in our fight against COVID and all of its variants in the communities we provide services for. It is a capability requested by our Health System, and much needed in these times we are in today," said Governor John Johnson.

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The mobile care units will be used for Public Health outreach efforts and provide health and wellness encounters throughout both the service area and also in areas of high Tribal member concentration.

“These units convert between a mobile health clinic and a mobile dental clinic, providing for a robust Public Health capability to deliver healthcare services where they are needed the most – to the patient,” stated Mark Rogers, AST Health System’s Executive Director. While providing a wide-range of services to the Tribal and surrounding communities, it is also a key part of the Tribe’s increasingly robust pandemic strategy in the fight against COVID and its variants. The units will also be used for flu and other vaccination drives as well as providing other services such as Diabetes Health, Wellness, and Nutritional services and Dementia Care services as part of the Tribe’s grant programs.

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“Native American Health Care has been woefully underserved for generations, and this is another step in the right direction in connecting crucial services to our people,” according to Dr. Marty Lofgren, the AST Health System’s Medical Director. Increasing the outreach and services to our nearly 23,000 patients, as well as our invaluable Tribal Elders and Tribal Veterans, it cannot be understated in its importance to sustain contact with the healthcare needs of the people we provide services for, Lofgren added. The AST Health System also has telehealth services, after-hours clinics and drive up testing and vaccination events. They also continue to man a 24/7 COVID Hotline for their Tribal Members and Patients, a service stood up early in the initial pandemic response in 2020.

“Tribes are often overlooked in our State for their contributions to the greater good of many things that range from infrastructure, education, economic development, and healthcare,” Rogers said. "All of the Tribes in Oklahoma contribute significantly to our State’s overall health, with Public Health programs, grants, and with purchasing services from every major health system in our state. It is an honor and privilege to be a small, but important part, of the healthcare tapestry in our State today helping all Oklahomans and the communities in which we live and serve.”

The AST Health System has been in existence for nearly 30 years, and has grown substantially over time due to the dedication of our patients and Tribal members. They are located in Shawnee and also in Norman. Their patients comprise representation from every Tribe in Oklahoma as well as some Tribes that are located out of State, with crucial health and wellness services to Tribal members and their families, and was Compacted as a Self-Governed Tribe in the early 90’s, one of the first Compacted Tribes in Oklahoma. Today the AST Tribal membership has grown to nearly 5,000 members and also operates the Thunderbird Gaming Centers located in Shawnee and Norman.