Indian Family Health Clinic and Indian Health Service Facility of Great Falls welcomed psychiatric nurse Dr. Deni Fitzpatrick to their team.
Fitzpatrick can diagnose and treat mental health needs including anxiety, depression, schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. She also specializes in medication management and can offer psychoeducation., where she assesses how patients’ sleep, appetite or daily tasks influence their mental health.
Mary Lynne Billy, director of innovation at the Indian Family Health Clinic, said Fitzpatrick’s addition to the team “is a really big deal.”
“Within the Indian health service itself, there is a huge gap for mental health providers,” she said. “It’s hard to find providers who will work with the multiple layers that often impact a patient, which is not just cultural but economic. … Often times we’re not just treating the patient, it’s the whole family and the surrounding support system. . Most Western healthcare facilities don’t want to deal with a patient and their 10 loved ones.”
Billy said the need for mental health services is especially important now, as COVID-19 continues to spread and threaten Indigenous communities. Resulting from long-term disinvestment and oppression, Native Americans are disproportionately affected by the virus. A recent report from the Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services found that in 2020, COVID-19 was the leading cause of death among Indigenous people in the state. Billy said many of the clinic’s patients are experiencing virus-related trauma, grief and loss.
“Just having this resource is very rare,” Billy said, referring to Fitzpatrick. “We are incredibly honored to have him.”
Fitzpatrick, who is a descendant of the Blackfeet Nation, grew up in Browning and Cut Bank. After graduating from Cut Bank High School, she attended Carroll College, where she was a sprinter. After an injury left her unable to run, Fitzpatrick transferred to Montana State University, where she enrolled in the undergraduate nursing program.
Fitzpatrick earned a bachelor’s degree in nursing and returned to Browning where she worked at Blackfeet Community Hospital. Later, she enrolled in the psychiatry program at Montana State University. And in October, Fitzpatrick, who is 29, began working in Great Falls at the Indian Family Health Clinic, which serves about 1,700 patients in 92 tribal nations.
Fitzpatrick said she is passionate about “giving back to my people” and added that care in Indigenous and rural communities “is often not provided.”
As a descendant of the Blackfoot tribe, she said her Indigenous identity may make some patients feel more comfortable seeking care.
“I have an understanding of the culture. I know where they’re from, and having some of that same experience is really helpful,” she said.
Fitzpatrick said one of his goals is to eliminate the stigma around mental health services.
“A lot of people worry about what other people will think or if (a diagnosis) will affect their livelihood or if they’ll lose their jobs or their relationships. So my goal is to make mental health care less scary,” she said.
Billy said Fitzpatrick’s role will benefit the community in more ways than one.
“I hope that younger generations of Indigenous people will see young professionals, like Dr. Fitzpatrick, succeed and be committed to serving the community, that those young people will follow through and say, ‘Hey, I can do it too,'” he said. she declared.