CHR Celebrates 50 Years of Nationwide Health Service



CHR/EMS Director Fran Harrison has served as the Wichita Community Health Respresentative for over 33 years.

For many Native people throughout Indian Country, their tribe's Community Health Representative-or CHR as more commonly known-has been, for the past 50 years, the first point of contact in meeting their healthcare needs.


According to the Indian Health Service's Oklahoma City area webpage on CHRs, the program was originally created out of the Office of Economic Opportunity in 1967, where they were known as "Community Health Aides." By 1968, stated IHS public affairs specialist Marshall Cohen, the CHR program was then established under the 1921 Snyder Act. Much of the program's early trainees helped to meet the needs of Alaskan tribes in remote areas. Now, over 95 percent of the CHR programs are directly operated specifically by the tribes.

With duties ranging from transporting patients, picking up and refilling medications and home visits, training for the program includes CPR and first aid training; mental health first aid; and young parent support through the "Family Spirit Program."


"Community health representatives are a critical part of our Indian health system," said Rear Adm. Michael D. Weahkee, IHS principal deputy director and Zuni tribal member, in an email toWichita Tribal News.


"They provide essential services to our remote and rural communities," Weahkee continued. "Their work is especially important because they are front-line public health workers who are trusted members of the community. Their understanding of the languages and traditions promotes cultural competence in delivering health services."


The Wichita and Affiliated Tribes has had a strong sense of continuity with its CHR/EMS director, Fran Harrison, being a part of its program for 33 years. A member of the White Mountain Apache Tribe, Harrison graduated with her bachelor's in health services administration from Northern Arizona University. Harrison said that she originally interviewed for the Food Distribution Program secretary but was instead hired as CHR director.


Harrison said that a lot of what she does on a daily basis is case management and phone calls for patient needs. In addition to Harrison, the CHR program also includes CHR generalist/emergency medical responder Melvinia Domebo and patient transporter Michelle Hummingbird.


For Harrison, the key component to being a successful CHR is "compassion of wanting to help the people," she said.


When not working as a CHR, Harrison said that she is "usually with grandkids," watching TV or reading.


As to the importance of the CHR program in all Native communities, Harrison said the program is primarily about building relationships and trust.


"It's more of a grassroots type of relationship," she said. "We can relate to similar things. They trust us enough to talk about what's ailing them. It's just knowing us, knowing that we're just another person that's there to help them as best we can. We're not at a level where they don't want to talk to us, or they feel like they can't talk to us."


The CHR program is open to all Native Americans within the Wichita service area. For more information, call the Health Services program at 405-247-2425 ext. 158.