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Navajo Nation COPE (Community Outreach and Patient Empowerment)

Community Outreach and Patient Empowerment (COPE) – led by DGHE physician, Sonya Shin – is a formal collaboration with tribal leadership and Indian Health Services to address health disparities in Navajo Nation through community-based outreach and food security initiatives.

Community Outreach and Patient Empowerment (COPE) – led by DGHE physician, Sonya Shin

For far too long, American Indians and Alaska Natives have faced challenging economic, environmental, and political conditions that are, in many ways, similar to those experienced in developing countries.

About 37 percent of Navajo people, or Diné as they call themselves--literally meaning "The People," live in poverty. Access to preventive services, such as cancer screening, immunizations, and early detection, is often limited, and patients must travel long distance to obtain medical services. The situation is made worse by the lack of access to healthy foods. As a result, the life expectancy for American Indians is about six years shorter than for the general population in the United States. Additionally, American Indians suffer disproportionately high rates of obesity, diabetes, heart disease, mental illness, and substance abuse.

Community Outreach and Patient Empowerment (COPE) began in 2009 with funding from the Rx Foundation and represents a formal collaboration between the Brigham and Women's Hospital (BWH), the Navajo Nation Community Health Representative (CHR) Program, Navajo Area Indian Health Service (IHS), and Partners In Health (PIH).

COPE's vision is to eliminate health disparities and improve the wellbeing of American Indians and Alaska Natives. COPE strives to promote healthy, prosperous, and empowered Native communities through three approaches:

  1. Providing robust, community-based outreach to Native families;
  2. Strengthening local capacity and partnerships to bring about system-level change; and
  3. Increasing access to healthy foods and promoting food sovereignty in tribal communities.

Under the leadership of Sonya Shin, MD, a DGHE physician who relocated to New Mexico, the project initially focused on diabetes management and prevention. American Indians have the highest rate of type 2 diabetes in the world. Without careful management, high-risk diabetes patients are more likely to suffer from heart attacks, strokes, and renal failure. The project has since expanded to include other chronic diseases including heart disease, cancer, childhood obesity prevention, HIV, and Hepatitis C.

Since 2009, funding from the Rx Foundation and other generous supporters has made it possible to expand our collaboration to now cover the entire Navajo Nation.

Contact COPE.

COPE's 2014 annual report details the program's expansion and accomplishments from the past year.