A Mission of Service

A Mission of Service

Peck provides physical therapy services at health clinic serving American Indians

For the last 18 years, Kirk Peck, PT, PhD, has spent his Friday mornings providing pro bono physical therapy services at the Fred LeRoy Health and Wellness Clinic in South Omaha.

In fact, the work means so much to him that before he accepted a faculty position at Creighton in 2001, he had one condition — his weekly service on Friday mornings could continue.

“It is a natural fit with the Jesuit mission,” says Peck, chair of the Department of Physical Therapy, pointing out the long history of Jesuits working with Native American communities. “What a perfect fit for a mission of service.”

The clinic provides free health care services for members of the Ponca Tribe of Nebraska, as well as other American Indians and those eligible for support through the federal Indian Health Service. Peck’s physical therapy and rehab services round out the clinic’s offerings of primary care, dental services, pharmacy and a sweat lodge for traditional, holistic healing in the Ponca tradition.

The history of the Ponca Tribe of Nebraska, previously known as the Northern Ponca Tribe, goes back to Chief Standing Bear and his significant legal victory in 1879 that declared an American Indian was a “person” according to the law. In the 1960s, the Northern Poncas lost their status as a federally recognized tribe, but their status was restored in 1990, thanks in part to the efforts of Fred LeRoy — the center’s namesake, who died in 2012. The Ponca Tribe of Nebraska is unique in that it doesn’t have any federal lands, but the clinic is tribal-run.

Peck is the only physical therapist who has worked at the clinic, allowing him to really get to know his patients. If a patient comes in for an evaluation, Peck can reference his notes from when he treated the patient before.

“I get this longitudinal viewpoint of rehab,” Peck says. “It’s a unique view of patient care; it’s more like a small family than anything else.”

On his weekly clinic visits, Peck brings two physical therapy students. He says it’s a great experience for the students to get to practice and see real-world applications of what they learn in a PT lab.

The clinic does not have diagnostic imaging, which means no X-rays, MRIs or CT scans. Instead, Peck’s evaluations are based on clinical signs and symptoms, medical history and years of experience.

Several years ago — wanting to learn more about traditional Native American health care — Peck asked LeRoy if he could participate in a sweat ceremony, a sacred ceremonial tradition for some Native American populations.

“He allowed me (to participate) because I was providing a great service for their people,” Peck says. “It was a great honor.”

Peck says the clinic experience has enriched his view of physical therapy services and opened doors for PT students.

“It is an extremely gratifying facility to work in, with a population that I feel has been disenfranchised,” he says. “(The clinic) is phenomenal. I love it.”