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Local health advocate earns honor

 

On Oct. 18, Mary Selecky, Secretary of the Washington State Department of Health, presented the Warren Featherstone Reid Award for Excellence in Healthcare in honor of the late Kris Locke to her husband, Dr. Tom Locke, Health Officer for Clallam and Jefferson Counties and for the Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe. A photo of Kris sat on a table next to the speaker’s podium in Red Cedar Hall on the Jamestown S’Klallam Tribal Campus in Blyn. Kris died of leukemia in Sequim on May 21, 2012, at age 61.

“I’m saddened that Kris isn’t here to accept this in person and I feel that we should honor and celebrate her extraordinary work,” said Gov. Christine Gregoire in a letter to Tom Locke. “Kris’s work to improve access to affordable health care for American Indians and Alaska Natives in our state, as well as across the country, exemplified the very spirit of this award.”

Accepting the award, her husband said that Kris would have been both pleased and embarrassed to receive it, and that he would have enjoyed watching her experience both of those emotions.

“She deserves this honor. It represents long years of work by her as well as so many other people as well — in the arenas of Tribal Self-Governance and Health Care Access at the local, state and federal level — a huge group of people working toward a common cause,” Locke said.

The nomination, submitted to the State by Jamestown S’Klallam Tribal Council Chair/CEO W. Ron Allen, contained letters of support from many people, including National Indian Health Board, the Indian Health Care Advisory Committee and the Northwest Portland Area Indian Health Board. 

Here were some of the comments it included:

“Kris expanded accessibility to health care in Indian County … She was a trusted advisor with a quiet leadership style …. Collaborative and respected by her peers … She never took credit for the work, instead preferring to be known as part of a team … She embodied the best in health care advocacy and representation … She had a kind and gentle spirit … She was driven to improve the lives of those around her ….”

As a health policy analyst and planner, Kris strove to assure that people got the care their lives depended on. She worked behind the scenes for Native American tribes across the West, and as federal and state laws changed and changed again, she devoted herself to learning and explaining it all. Kris worked with tribes in Oregon and Washington including the Lummi, Quinault, Port Gamble S'Klallam and, for the past 20 years, the Jamestown S'Klallam Tribe. She believed that the tribes and the state could do better than the federal government at providing healthcare to Indian Country.

“Health care was her life. She was as sincere and genuine as you get,” said Allen. Kris was part of the team behind the Jamestown Family Health Clinic, the comprehensive medical center that opened in 2002 in Sequim. As an adviser to Allen, she was forever analyzing articles and reports; her skill, he said, was to interpret the information for tribal leaders. 

“She was one of a handful of people who really understood these complex health care issues. I could text her while I was in the middle of a difficult meeting and she’d concisely explain what was going on and what I should be arguing for,” said Allen. “She made me look good!”

“The Jamestown Family Health Clinic in Sequim was a project that Kris worked on with the tribe,” said Jean Baldwin, director of the Jefferson County Public Health Department. “So many people in Jefferson and Clallam County now have access to care because Kris and the tribe found a new way to think about providing access to health care.”

Since 1994, the Warren Featherstone Reid Award has been given annually to health care providers and facilities in Washington who exhibit exceptional quality and value in the delivery of health services. 

Warren Featherstone Reid, a Wenatchee native, was a longtime aid to Warren G. Magnuson, who represented Washington in the U.S. Senate for 36 years. He later advised Gov. Booth Gardner and chaired the Washington State Board of Health. Reid had a special interest in health policy and the Washington state Legislature honored him by creating this award, explained Selecky. 

“The award has special meaning for me, and I know it would have for Kris, because we knew “Feather,” (as Warren Featherstone Reid was known) said Locke, who received the award himself in 2005 for his work as Health Officer for Clallam and Jefferson Counties. 

The couple met him when they served together on the Washington State Board of Health and worked with Reid when Clallam County was designated as the first rural county to become a demonstration site for Washington State’s Basic Health Plan, the first of its kind in the nation, in 1987.

 “He was a friend and a mentor. He had an extraordinary sense of social justice and personal integrity.”
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