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Department of Social Work gains grant for improving advance care planning in Cherokee community

By Geoff CantrellLiz Anderson

Liz Anderson

The National Institute of Nursing Research has awarded just over $374,500 to Western Carolina University’s Department of Social Work to work in partnership with the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians for advance care planning with the Native American community. 

The project will be led by assistant professor Elizabeth Anderson and professor Turner Goins and is intended to create positive outcomes in clinical and public health practices that also are responsive to cultural values and beliefs and provide further opportunity to express and document care wishes.

Advance care planning – expressing desired treatment goals and expected health outcomes, especially at the end of life – is underused among Native peoples, who as a population often experience higher prevalence of serious, life-limiting illnesses. “Our project is designed to partner with relevant tribal stakeholders to facilitate access to appropriate and community-tailored advance care planning resources to members of the Qualla Boundary community,” said Goins, the university’s Ambassador Jeanette Hyde Distinguished Professor of Gerontological Social Work in the College of Health and Human Sciences and a nationally known specialist in American Indian aging issues.

Turner Goins

Turner Goins

The project is partnering with the tribe’s geriatrician, Dr. Blythe Winchester, and the manager of EBCI Legal Assistance Office, Bonnie Claxton. Also, the project is guided by a Community Advisory Board that includes Roseanna Belt, Tom Belt, Onita Bush and Carol Long.

The National Institute of Nursing Research, a part of the National Institutes of Health, supports strategies to provide culturally tailored palliative and end-of-life care for seriously ill American Indians and Alaskan Natives. 

Anderson, a Sojourn Scholar Leadership Award recipient for palliative care, has prior experience as a hospice and palliative care social worker, said an integrated, whole person approach and the inclusion of family members should be valued as much as medical treatment. “American Indians deserve to have a voice in their healthcare wishes when they are seriously ill,” she said. “This grant funding will allow Cherokee members to express their unique desires and preferences when they are seriously ill, so that they can receive health care that aligns with their personal values, and thus increase quality of life.”

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