Chris Buchanan, East Central University alumnus and a member of the Commissioned Corps of the United States Public Health Service (USPHS), was recently promoted to the flag-officer rank of Rear Admiral and appointed Deputy Director of Indian Health Services.
Buchanan also recently served six months as acting director.
As a senior ranking officer, flag officers exemplify the core values for which commissioned officers of the U.S. Public Health Service are held in high esteem, according to Dr. Patrick Bohan, ECU Environmental Health Sciences professor and Retired Captain of the USPHS.
“Flag officers provide executive-level leadership within the department and the agencies which they serve,” Bohan said. “Our flag officers also carry the title of Assistant Surgeon General and, as such, we rely on them to support special initiatives and exhibit the highest caliber of public health leadership.”
Buchanan, a native of Konawa, joins fellow ECU alumnus Rear Admiral Kevin D. Meeks as a high-ranking official within the USPHS. Meeks is acting deputy director of field operations for the Indian Health Service, an agency within the Department of Health and Human Services and the principal federal health care advocate and provider of health services for American Indians and Alaska natives.
ECU has provided more environmental health officers to the Commissioned Corps of the U.S. Public Health Service than any other institution in the country, according to Bohan. The Environmental Health Science program at ECU is one of 31 accredited undergraduate programs throughout the United States.
“The Environmental Health Science program provided an interdisciplinary foundation that prepared me for my career in Indian Health Service,” Buchanan said. “Environmental health graduates of the program are problem solvers. We use this type of approach to develop skill sets
that help to constructively review environmental and public health issues and come up with solutions. I have and continue to use these skills in my role as the deputy director of IHS.”
Buchanan credits the late Dr. Mickey Rowe, former chair and professor of the ECU Environmental Health Science Department, with setting the stage for his career.
“Dr. Rowe was a force of nature. He left a lasting impact on me personally and professionally,” said Buchanan. “His expectations were high for all his students and former students. He made it clear upon graduation that you would be representing the ECU Environmental Health Program and your environmental health decisions will have an impact on public health. His expectation was nothing short of being the best both academically and in your profession.”
As deputy director Buchanan, an enrolled member of the Seminole Nation of Oklahoma, leads and oversees IHS operations to ensure delivery of quality comprehensive health services. He ensures that IHS provides for the full participation of tribes in programs and services and helps to establish and track the goals and metrics through which the IHS U.S.-federal-government-operated, or direct service, health care program improves outcomes.
Buchanan ensures IHS services are integrated across all levels of the agency and engaged with other Operating Divisions of the Department of Health and Human Services and external partners, including states and national organizations.
He previously served in 2016 as the acting area director for the IHS Great Plains Area, with administrative responsibility for 19 service units serving 130,000 people and 17 tribes through seven hospitals, 10 health centers and two urban Indian health programs, overseeing a complex health care program during a period of change. Previously, Buchanan has served as director of the IHS Office of Direct Services and Contracting Tribes.
As an environmental health officer in the U.S. Public Health Service Commissioned Corps with more than 20 years of active duty, Buchanan began his IHS career in 1993, serving in various environmental health positions in the Phoenix, Albuquerque and Oklahoma City areas, including serving as the administrative officer for Lawton Indian Hospital and the chief executive officer for Haskell Health Center. In 2010, he was administrative officer of clinical services for the Chickasaw Nation’s Division of Health in Ada.
Along with serving on several national IHS workgroups and being deployed to several natural disaster events, Buchanan has received numerous professional awards, including one for National Council of Chief Executive Officer’s Rookie of the Year. He earned a bachelor of environmental health science degree from ECU and a public health degree in health policy and administration from the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill.
Buchanan has seen Indian Health Service improve over the years, evolving in a similar manner as the traditional healthcare delivery model to a more value-based healthcare delivery system.
“The IHS sees these changes through the administration of a nationwide health care delivery program that is responsible for providing preventative, curative and community health care for approximately 2.2 American Indians and Alaska natives in hospitals, clinics and other settings throughout the United States,” Buchanan said. “An example of this evolution includes emerging technologies such as telemedicine. By utilizing these healthcare technologies, IHS will continue to improve the populations we serve.”
Telemedicine is the diagnosis and treatment of patients in remote areas using medical information such as x-rays or television pictures, transmitted over long distances, particularly satellite.