Justin Tafoya, a 2008 graduate of Northland Pioneer College’s nursing program who is now giving back to his community and nation as a Commissioned Health Corps Officer stationed at the Indian Health Services (IHS) Hospital in Whiteriver, was honored as the Spring 2012 Outstanding Alumnus during the June 19 regular meeting of the Navajo County Community College District Governing Board in Holbrook.
As a Public Health Nurse (PHN) Tafoya serves on the Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever Coalition; ensures immunization standards and requirements are met for White Mountain Apache Tribal members; provides Basic Life Support (BLS) instruction to hospital staff and tribal community members; and serves as one of the coordinators for communicable disease (TB) and sexually-transmitted infections surveillance and treatment program.
Tafoya also demonstrates commitment to lifelong learning, attaining his Bachelor of Science – Nursing (BSN) degree through Grand Canyon University and is currently working on his MSN in informatics from GCU. He promotes education in his patients, their families, and encourages students to pursue nursing and health sciences careers.
Academics were not always Justin’s top priority. After four years of playing baseball for Blue Ridge High School, he enlisted in the Air Force, where he learned aircraft maintenance skills. During a duty tour in Japan, the need for more education “finally sank in.” After his enlistment and back in Phoenix unable to find a job, Justin decided to return to the White Mountains and use his veterans’ educational benefits to enroll at NPC. “It is so beautiful here. It was nice to come back home.”
He qualified for NPC’s President’s Scholars program and had the opportunity to visit New York City with his classmates and instructor Ron Goulet. “The opportunity to visit New York City allowed us (the students) to experience significant worldly icons first-hand that we were only able to read about. The commaderie of the students was the best. We developed friendships, especially with my wife and Scott Gibson, a co-worker at Whiteriver, that will last a lifetime.” The low cost and how “easy the professors are to get along with” have made him a strong advocate for NPC. Nursing and Allied Health Dean Peg Erdman frequently invites Tafoya back to talk to students about having an impact on their communities.
Nursing Faculty member Carol Stewart nominated Justin for the award and presented the plaque during the Governing Board meeting.
Over the past year he has worked with Slade Flitton to introduce a closed-circuit patient education channel at the Whiteriver Hospital, which is expected to launch in the next 3 to 6 months using the model at the Shiprock, N.M., IHS facility. “The 3- to 5-minute up-to-date education videos would be done by community members and would be highly influenced by local health needs.” Videos would be broadcast to patients 24/7.
A step-by-step instructional brochure on Electronic Health Records he developed for the Family Care Unit and Emergency Department nursing staff received national recognition. It has now been adopted for use by other IHS service units and professions.
Tafoya is also involved in implementing social media both locally and nationally. Shortly after joining the IHS in 2008, Justin traveled to the IHS headquarters in Rockville, MD, to participate in a focus group on utilizing social media as a recruitment and retention tool. The group’s suggestions were presented to the Director of Indian Health Services.
Locally he is working with Whiteriver Hospital CEO Michelle Martinez to incorporate social media, such as Facebook, into the healthcare environment for rapid dissemination of health-related information to staff and community members.
As a member of the Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever (RMSF) Coalition, Tafoya was tasked as part of a three-member team in 2011 that developed a flip chart used to educate Head Start and elementary school children in Arizona on the tick-bore disease. There have been several RMSF-related deaths on the San Carlos and White Mountain Apache reservations and he is actively involved in prevention education and distribution of dog flea collars and pesticide granules to tribal members in collaboration with the Center for Disease Control (CDC) and the Arizona Department of Health Services (ADHS). “The (flea) collars are only good for up to three months and the granules up to one month, so it is an ongoing challenge to reach tribal members and stop the spread of ticks and the disease.”
That effort is sometimes hampered by his role as sexually-transmitted infections surveillance and treatment coordinator. “People tend to scatter when they see me coming,” he notes with a slight chuckle in his voice. In that role he is part private investigator, but restricted by privacy rules of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA). “There has been a four times increase in the number of Gonorrhea cases on the reservation from 2010 to 2011, especially among 14- to 27-year-olds.” He sponsors Recovery Sessions education and speaks frequently to high school juniors and seniors about the consequences of their actions. He is also working on developing a statistical baseline to be used in the HIV-prevention efforts.
As a commissioned PHN, he is also part of the Rapid Deployment Force 5 Team that can be called out with 12 hours notice to assist in the event of a natural disaster. “I have a ‘go bag’ ready, especially with tornado and hurricane seasons approaching. We have been activated for deployment this July to perform a Community Health and Service Mission (CHASM) in South Dakota.”
Justin is a devoted family man, spending quality time with his wife, Amy, and one-year-old daughter Kinsley.
Amy is also a 2008 NPC nursing graduate and utilized an All-Arizona Academic Team tuition waiver to complete her BSN at Arizona State. She is a Level 2 special skills nurse in the OB Unit at Summit Regional Medical Center. She, too, speaks highly of NPC’s professors and the encouragement students receive to give back to their communities.
Justin is also an archery enthusiast – both he and Amy have early archery elk hunt permits – and participates in many of the White Mountain Bowhunters activities. “Kinsley has already been to more (bow) shoots than most adults,” he quips.
“Sometimes it is the little things in life that you need to take note of,” he added.
As the Outstanding Alumnus for Spring 2012, Justin will receive a tuition gift certificate and mementos from the college.