There’s no place like home

There’s an old saying that once a person has seen Rome, it’s hard to come back to the farm. For two physicians in New Town, however, that has not exactly been the case. Dr. Kathy Eagle, the acting CEO and Quality Care Director, and Dr. Monica Mayer, chief medical officer, both at Elbowoods Memorial Health Center, were recently promoted to their new positions and chose, at one point during their careers, to return to their home town.

Eagle, who is Arikara/Santee Sioux and an enrolled member in the Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara nation, was born and raised in the White Shield area. She has three children, Ashley, Veronica and Tristen. Eagle was transplanted into the White Mountains of Arizona where her mother was a public health nurse with Indian Health Services. She graduated from the University of North Dakota and the University of Arizona in Tucson with a doctorate in medicine in 2002. Over the years, Eagle has worked in Indian Health and Research at Johns Hopkins University, University of California, Los Angeles and the University of Arizona.

“It is not my education that defines me, but my family, culture and life experience,” she added.

Eagle said she had always wanted to return to New Town, but there were no jobs available. Also, the loss of her daughter, Veronica, who was 17 years old, in September of 2011, resulted in a strong desire for Eagle to return home in hopes of healing from the tragic loss.

Upon returning home, Eagle said she was immediately welcomed and accepted.

“Reuniting with friends and family has truly been a blessing to me and my family as we continue our life journey without Veronica,” she said.

To serve her tribe in a medical capacity has been an honor, Eagle said, as she and her colleagues strive to improve the health needs of the people.

It’s a similar feeling of honor for Mayer to serve her people in a medical capacity as well. She is originally from New Town and was a doctor with Trinity’s clinic there for a number of years after finishing medical school. She left and has been other places including Belcourt, and has now returned. Mayer was recently named the chief medical officer.

“We’re living in challenging and complex times in medicine and the business becomes more complex and even the practice is challenging,” Mayer said about how things have been going so far in her new administrative position. In the beginning when she worked as a doctor, one of the goals is to get established and it takes 10 to 15 years to feel comfortable in the practice. When moving into administration, that’s a whole other area of medicine in itself, Mayer said. There are always issues and problems needing to be addressed, she added, which Mayer feels she has built up the knowledge and experience to deal with.

“The challenge of trying to take care of patients the best we can is the bottom line,” she said.

As the chief medical officer, Mayer oversees the medical staff, as well as oversees the bylaws, policies, procedures, rules and regulations. She also oversees the other directors in other departments and oversees all staffing issues. If there is time left over, Mayer said she can spend that time practicing at the clinic, but doing so can get political. “There are only so many hours and I want to do good at both,” she said. Primarily, Mayer said she represents the medical staff, does administrative work and is responsible for recruitment.

Mayer said she likes seeing patients. “I hit the jackpot because I like serving patients and coming to work,” she said.

Before becoming the chief medical officer, she was a family practice physician. “I had long hours and family practice gets paid less, but there’s so much joy in serving the whole family,” Mayer said.

Mayer is enjoying being back in her hometown and compared it to feeling like Dorothy’s sentiments in “The Wizard of Oz” when she said, “There’s no place like home.”

“I’m dedicated to serving the community,” Mayer said. The elders have made health care their No. 1 priority, she added, and the tribal council realizes the importance of the safety and well-being of their people.

“Everyone here is committed to doing that,” she said.

Also, Mayer’s mother wanted Mayer to come back home, Mayer said, and she is happy to be back. She hopes to end her career in New Town.

“I’m very excited to work with the new management at Elbowoods,” Mayer said. “I want to build high quality medical service and health care delivery.”

She also would like to eventually open the doors to non-enrolled members to Elbowoods Memorial Health Center since they currently only treat enrolled members who are eligible for services because the center receives federal funds.