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‘Community effort’ needed to address health problems on the Osage Reservation

Paradox Consulting offers recommendations for Osages to make healthy lifestyle changes
Osage Nation employees enjoy the start of Employee Appreciation Day July 14.
Osage Nation employees enjoy the start of Employee Appreciation Day July 14. Photo by Shannon Shaw/Osage News

FAIRFAX, Okla. – Paradox Consulting, which issued the health surveys to Osage citizens applying for the $500 health benefit card earlier this year, says changes in everyday behavior can help those in fair or poor health extend their life span by avoiding future medical complications.

Dr. Joe Conner (Osage) and his wife Dr. Carol Nice Conner own Paradox Consulting LLC and conducted the survey which questioned all Osages applying for the health benefit card about their health care needs, age and residential demographics and daily lifestyle habits. The survey results note that Osages living on the tribe’s reservation tend to have “poorer health statuses” than Osages living elsewhere.

In July after the health card survey results were finalized, the Conners wrote a 17-page supplement report titled: “Evidence Based Health Planning Guide for The Osage Nation: Rx for a Reservation at Risk” and visited with the Osage News on potential remedies to address the issues of those reporting to be in poor health.

The Conners say it will take a “community effort” to improve services and the living environment for Osages to make better lifestyle choices to improve their health. The Conners, who both have PhD degrees and specialized in clinical psychology, recommend more health-related programs and policies for employees, the community and economic development to spur job growth to help change lifestyle behaviors.

“We don’t have a pill people can take, but it’s going to take a concerted effort to improve,” Joe Conner said. “It won’t happen overnight. People will need help with problems.”

The survey identified smoking, overeating (which leads to obesity) and depression as health dangers associated with many of the survey takers. If left unaddressed, smoking can lead to respiratory problems such as asthma and sinus trouble and obesity is associated with dangers including diabetes and heart disease.

According to the Conners’s research, decreases in life expectancy are associated with overweight and obesity as well as smoking. Obese female smokers lose 13.3 years in life expectancy and obese male smokers lose 13.7 years compared with normal-weight non-smokers.

If the health problems persist, Joe Conner notes the number of “disabled people are going to be increasing” along with decreases in life expectancy.

The Conners cite a Dutch study which reports 40-year-old non-smokers, who are overweight, lost an average of three years of life expectancy. Forty-year-old obese female non-smokers lost seven years of life expectancy and males in the same category lost nearly six years. Obese female smokers lost seven years of life expectancy and obese male smokers lost 6.7 years compared with normal-weight smokers.

Health Summit

To start addressing the health problems of Osages, the Conners are recommending the Nation hold a health summit and invite experts in the health field and citizens to begin addressing the problems and potential solutions. Experts with backgrounds in health psychology, behavioral medicine, community psychology as well as economics are suggested for the summit. This effort also includes a community-wide health summit to engage all Osages in addressing the health problems.

“For people to improve their health, they’re going to have to hear the problems,” Carol Connor said of the health summit suggestion. “We need ways of engaging people in providing solutions because we need vibrant healthy Osages in 20 years.”

On improving the appearance of the reservation communities, Carol Conner believes “we need to start looking at those things that impact the community.” Adding community improvement efforts such as beautification projects (to address concerns about rundown buildings, for example) and adding tourist/ travel amenities could attract job opportunities to the reservation, which would lower the unemployment rate and unhealthy lifestyles associated with not having a job, she said.

“It has to be an attractive place to help attract potential entrepreneurs,” which could include those who are Osage and currently living elsewhere, Carol Conner said. “Let’s invest in our communities, and empower them.”

In the workplace, the Conners encourage employers to implement health incentive programs which recognize employees for healthy living choices. People should “make those positive incentives and reward people for eating better and being more active,” Joe Conner said.

The Conners also recommend that leaders establish workplace employee assistance programs, wellness policies and policies which give incentives for youth physical fitness and create facilities and venues which provide recreational activities.

Carol Conner referred to a Sept. 17 Tulsa World story about a groundbreaking ceremony on a health and wellness center in north Tulsa as an example. According to the article, the facility set to open in 2012, will offer primary medical care, mental health care, preventative health services and education and recreational amenities such as basketball and tennis courts and a walking trail.

The Conners founded Paradox nearly 20 years ago which is identified as the only community and organizational psychology research and consulting firm in Indian Country that specializes in services to tribes and federal Indian programs. The Conners have worked with hundreds of tribes nationwide and agencies such as the federal Indian Health Service and Centers for Disease Control.

Location

Fairfax, OK
United States