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NW HERON Susan McLaughlin

NW HERON team attends National Indian Council on Aging Conference – in person!

This August, NW HERON and IREACH team members were fortunate to have the rare opportunity – mid-pandemic – to attend and present findings at the 23rd Annual National Indian Council on Aging (NICOA) Conference in Reno. Safely vaccinated, masked, and distanced, the team was able to immerse themselves in the greater community, sharing and connecting around the topic of aging in Indian Country.

In partnership with NICOA, the team collected data exploring barriers and facilitators to Native participation in Alzheimer’s disease research. This project is led by NW HERON Director Patrik Johansson, MD, MPH, Associate Professor in the Elson S. Floyd College of Medicine’s Department of Medical Education at Washington State University, in association with the Native Research and Resource Core of the University of Washington’s Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center (ADRC).

To engage Tribal conference participants, the NW HERON team manned a booth, hosted a lunch for Elders from Washington state who attended the conference, and held 8 separate listening sessions. Preliminary themes that emerged from the Alzheimer’s disease sessions include the importance of allowing participants to select among research activities (which can entail MRI, blood and saliva tests, and lumbar puncture), honoring the belief that no body part should exist beyond death, promoting community-based education to raise dementia awareness, and educating researchers about traditional medicine and prayer practices used to complement Western medicine.

In addition to conducting and presenting research on cognitive impairment, the team also collected data on lung cancer screening and on COVID-19’s impact on Tribal elders; assisted Cole Allick – PhD student in Indigenous studies and member of NW HERON – in gathering data for his dissertation project; and presented at a youth panel discussion.

The NW HERON team is incredibly grateful they were able to attend the conference in person and returned with a renewed sense of purpose and energy. Being immersed in the community served as a great reminder as to why we do what we do!

WSU report on opioid overdose mortality in 3 counties in Washington state

Substance use disorders are one of the top clinical concerns for primary care facilities in Washington, according to a recent NW HERON survey of state healthcare administrators (view survey summary here.) The Washington Department of Health currently reports an average of 2 opioid overdose deaths per day in the state, while nationally there has been a 300% increase in opioid-related deaths over the last 2 decades.

To better understand why some rural counties in Washington experience higher rates of opioid overdose mortality than others, WSU graduate student Sam Castonguay has prepared a report that explores characteristics unique to Clallam, Chelan, and Walla Walla counties. Under the supervision of Dr. Justin Denney – Scientific Co-Director of NW HERON and Associate Professor of Sociology – Castonguay takes an in-depth look at the factors underlying geographic variation in opioid overdose deaths across Washington.

Castonguay’s interest in substance use disorders grew out of her prior work with a harm reduction nonprofit agency in upstate New York. As a doctoral student in WSU’s Sociology Department, she saw an opportunity to work with Dr. Denney to examine opioid overdose mortality using methods sensitive to intra-rural context. “I was originally trying to map opioid overdose mortality risk based on a few spatial factors, like distance to the nearest hospital and Naloxone access points,” Castonguay says. “I reached out to Justin (Denney) to help brainstorm overdose risk factors. We were really surprised by all the data available!”

Castonguay and Denney hope the report, which aligns with several initiatives presented in the Washington State Opioid Response Plan, will prove useful for understanding and combatting the opioid epidemic in rural areas of Washington. They intend for the data to provide local practitioners and clinics affiliated with NW HERON with insights to help tailor individualized plans to beat opioid addiction and mortality.

Click here to read “Washington State Opioid Overdose Mortality: A Comparison of Three Rural Counties.”

Results are in from NW HERON survey of area healthcare facilities

The Northwest Health Education & Research Outcomes Network (NW HERON) survey, conducted in the fall of 2020, is an important tool to identify the main concerns of healthcare facilities. Together, we can develop constructive strategies to improve clinical care and reduce health disparities for NW residents in rural, tribal, and urban medically underserved areas. Compiled from 35 facilities across the region, the 2020 survey data show that behavioral health and COVID-19 are the top two clinical concerns.

NW HERON is an emerging practice-based research network (PBRN) that currently includes 15+ primary care practices working in partnership with IREACH, WSU’s Elson S. Floyd College of Medicine, and the Health Equity Research Center at WSU. NW HERON’s purpose is to link providers with each other and with WSU faculty and healthcare students. We invite primary care practices to partner with us in research activities that address clinic priorities.

Look here for a visual summary of the 2020 survey results.