Published April 2, 2017
AKWESASNE – The Saint Regis Mohawk Tribe recently highlighted Dr. Benson Kelly as their long-term service employee.
Dr. Benson Kelly, or more affectionately known as “Doc” or “Doc Kelly,” has been an integral part of the Saint Regis Mohawk Tribe’s Health Services since 1986. His jovial presence is always within earshot, which is an indication of the comforting “bed-side” manner that he exudes for treating patients at the tribal clinic for more than thirty years.
When Dr. Kelly first joined Health Services the clinic and pharmacy were located in a small white building that now serves as the Community Building’s main parking lot. Being the only full-time physician on staff, he was joined by one pediatrician and an obstetrician, who worked half-time. Their case load was an average of 15 to 18 patients a day, enabling Dr. Kelly to share his time in the Emergency Room at Massena Memorial Hospital helping treat tribal members.
Space was limited at their former location, which housed the clinic in the lower level and saw the pharmacy and library sharing the top floor. It was cramped space, with Dr. Kelly remarking that when the facility first opened they already knew it was already too small. It resulted in assurances from Indian Health Service that a new building was on the horizon however, as he teasingly notes, “When you work for IHS you don’t believe it until you see it.”
Joined by Vicky Jock, Lori Thompson, Lynelle Terrance and Hazel Bero; Dr. Kelly was part of a determined group that submitted proposals and held fundraising events for a new tribal clinic. It took several years, but their hard work paid off on September 19, 1991 as the doors opened for the existing Health Services Building, which earned them recognition from the Indian Health Service’s Nashville Area Office as Employees of the Year (1994).
It was a tremendous accomplishment, but for Dr. Kelly the next challenge was “system building” that entailed the integration of a health clinic, pharmacy, dental clinic, mental health, lab, business office, and various components of outreach into the new facility. It was a daunting task for Health Services, but the satisfaction he received by fostering trust from community members during its development made the effort worthwhile. Reflecting on the results, he says, “Providing that personal service and that feeling I received from getting to know the patients is the best reward I could’ve ever asked for.”
Perhaps the most memorable moment for Dr. Kelly however, was something he was taught in medical school to not do—treat your own family members. When his grandmother heard he was going to be a doctor at the tribal clinic she refused to be treated by anyone else until he arrived. She patiently waited until he started before going to be seen by her grandson. She lived to be 100-years old, so, for Dr. Kelly, he takes pride in jokingly knowing that he “must have done something right.”
Being a graduate of Harvard University, Dr. Kelly most likely could’ve pursued his career as a physician with any hospital or tribal clinic. Asked why he came back to Akwesasne, he says, “When I go to meetings attended by Native professionals, the discussion seems to always focus on how you can return and help your own community. Having returned to be a part of Health Services, it has contributed toward the trust and appreciation that people have from the services they receive.”
Dr. Kelly hopes that more young people will consider health, as well as mental health, for a possible career. And, we hope that Dr. Kelly will consider never leaving Health Services.
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