TAHLEQUAH — The National Indian Health Board presented Cherokee Nation Health Services Infectious Diseases Director Dr. Jorge Mera the Outstanding Service Award at the annual Heroes in Health Awards Gala in Temecula, California, on Sept. 18.

The Outstanding Service Award honors an individual or organization whose work has made an impact on American Indian and Alaska Native health care.

“I represent a whole team of health care workers who have gone beyond their duty during the last four years to accomplish what our Hepatitis C Elimination Program has achieved,” Dr. Mera said. “I am delighted to receive this award in the name of this group of people.”

Dr. Mera first completed his fellowship in Infectious Diseases and Clinical Microbiology at Baylor College of Medicine. He now leads Cherokee Nation’s Hepatitis C Elimination Program, which is the first of its kind in the United States.

“The impact of Dr. Mera’s work in the Cherokee Nation health system is as impactful as any work in the history of our tribal health care system,” Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr. said. “Under his leadership, the tribe’s Hepatitis C Elimination Program has reached heights once thought impossible. I commend Dr. Mera and all the staff who work tirelessly on the innovative project and the significance of Dr. Mera and our staff’s work is only affirmed by this award.”

The program utilizes aggressive screening and treatment to eradicate the disease by screening patients ages 20 to 65 who use the Cherokee Nation health system. The program, which has a 90 percent cure rate, has screened more than 50,000 Cherokee Nation Health Services patients, and approximately 900 have received treatment for Hepatitis C. The ultimate goal of the program is to cure the Native American population of Hepatitis C in northeast Oklahoma by the year 2030.

“Cherokee Nation Health Services is blessed to have the highest quality of health care providers, including Dr. Mera,” said W.W. Hastings Hospital CEO Brian Hail. “His work with the Hepatitis C Elimination Program has changed hundreds of lives and is revolutionizing the way the disease is now treated. I am so proud that Dr. Mera is receiving national recognition for his work. It is very much deserved.”

Former Junior Miss Cherokee Kaitlyn Pinkerton, of Claremore, also received an award from the National Indian Health Board at the September gala. The national organization gave Pinkerton the Outstanding Service Award for her advocacy work on mental health awareness.

“I never thought something like this would happen and it is so crazy to even think about,” said Pinkerton. “I advocate for mental health because I suffer from depression and anxiety, and I never want another kid to feel like they are alone, like I did.”

As Junior Miss Cherokee, Pinkerton traveled the country to speak about innovative treatments for mental illness, presenting at the National Indian Health Board, United National Indian Tribal Youth, National Council for Urban Indian Health and Native Connections, and was a panelist at the U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration National Conference.

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