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American Indian physician group continues to tackle health problems in Native populations

National experts will gather Aug. 9-14 at the Jantzen Beach Red Lion Hotel in Portland to detail how traditional healing can be part of modern medicine

As a group, American Indians suffer some of the worst health disparities in the United States.

American Indians die at higher rates than the U.S. population as a whole from: tuberculosis (500 percent higher); alcoholism (514 percent higher) and diabetes (177 percent higher).

And American Indian and Alaska Native infants are two to four time mores likely than Caucasian infants to die of sudden infant death syndrome.

These health disparities — and what physicians can do to battle them — will be the focus of discussion at the 40th annual meeting and national health conference of the Association of American Indian Physicians in Portland Aug. 9-14.

More than 200 American Indian and Alaska Native physicians from around the nation will gather for the conference, which will feature more than 30 experts talking about American Indian health issues, including, for the first time, the president of the American Medical Association. The president of the American Psychiatric Association and the director of the federal Indian Health Service will also speak at the conference.

"American Indians in the United States are dying in large numbers from diseases they shouldn't have to die from," said R. Dale Walker, M.D., president of the AAIP and professor of psychiatry and public health and preventive medicine at Oregon Health & Science University. "We are bringing together some of the best minds in American Indian health care — and top U.S. health leaders — to talk about how to address that crisis."

The conference, to be held at the Jantzen Beach Red Lion Hotel, will include a range of experts speaking on a variety of American Indian health issues. Among them:

  • David Baines, M.D., an Alaska Native physician for 29 years, will speak about how physicians can better understand traditional American Indian healing methods and how to better work with patients who are seeing Traditional Healers.
  • Walker, who is also head of the One Sky Center at OHSU, will speak about chronic behavioral health issues of American Indians — depression, anxiety, addictions, suicide — and how these problems can be more effectively managed by establishing a broader network of community-based care.
  • Daniel Dickerson, D.O., M.P.H., an assistant research psychiatrist at the University of California, Los Angeles, will speak about his work with traditional "drum-assisted recovery therapy" for American Indians with substance abuse disorders.
  • Shane Morrison and Rebecca Stellato, teaching assistants at the Stanford University School of Medicine, will speak about their experiences with "Med 202" — a Stanford class that combines a full medical school course in American Indian and rural health care with a week of work serving American Indians at a health clinic and Habitat for Humanity sites in Rosebud, S.D.

The conference will also have some highly visual ceremonies. It will include a "Sunset Drum and Music" welcoming ceremony at 6:30 p.m. on Thursday, Aug. 11, during which members of the Confederated Tribes of Grande Ronde will canoe ashore on the Columbia River to welcome their guests to their ceded lands. The conference also will include a Pow Wow dance event on the evening of Saturday, Aug. 13, during which some featured speakers at the conference will perform traditional song and dance.

Note to editors: Speakers at the conference, including the four presenters listed above, are available for phone interviews prior to the conference. Details on the conference are available at

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