CARE executive director heads for state American Indian Health Commission

Sheryl Lowe has landed her dream job.

Currently director of the Clallam Advocates for Rural Elders (CARE) Partnership, Lowe will leave at the end of the month to become the executive director of the statewide American Indian Health Commission. The new role combines her passions for health care and Native American tribal issues.

"The job will be about

representing the commission at the state level, working with the state, making sure that the tribal-state relationships are going well, looking at policy issues that might impact tribes, analyzing those issues and advocating for tribal participation," Lowe explained, adding that the ultimate goal is to improve Native American health care, which nationwide is in dire straits.

Native Americans generally suffer from lower life expectancies and, according to Lowe, Native Americans are usually the worst off when it comes to specific health problems. Diabetes is reaching epidemic proportions and heart disease is on the rise.

Although a Jamestown S'Klallam tribal descendant, Lowe didn't become involved with Native American issues until she went to work for the tribe as a secretary. She worked for the Jamestown tribe for 14 years, becoming well-versed in policy making and issues related to sovereignty and self-governance.

"Then I had an opportunity to go to school, so I kind of vowed that once I went to school - my major was business administration and minority studies - that I would bring that back to my tribe to further help Indian people," Lowe said. "I love the work. I really love the work."

According to Lowe, Washington state is extremely progressive when it comes to working with tribal nations. While many states leave Native American legislation to the federal government, Washington works very closely with its tribal nations and tribal agencies.

The American Indian Health Commission is an umbrella group for 26 tribes and three other tribal organizations. Because of its size, the commission, Lowe says, doesn't have the time to advocate and create policy effectively. Lowe sees her role as a liaison between the tribes and tribal leaders and state officials and agencies.

"I can bring information back to them (the commission) and they can makes decisions and strategize how they're going to approach it," Lowe said.

This skill of bringing agencies together is one that Lowe used while working at CARE. Since its beginning in 2004, Lowe has worked to improve health care in Clallam County by bringing groups, agencies and individuals together and, by doing so, created a self-sustaining health network.

"One of the biggest things I think about the job is establishing relationships and having people work together well. It's what I've been doing here, bringing all kinds of diverse people together ... you work so that you can provide them with the information that they need in a timely way so that they can make informed decisions. I think that has really helped me," said Lowe.

Lowe will start her new position April 1 but she will stay in the area and continue working 20 hours a month at CARE until a new executive director is hired.

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