State’s tribes get $6.8 million

Great Falls Tribune

by Ledge King

WASHINGTON — Montana’s Indian tribes will receive $6.8 million to buy new medical equipment and repair clinics as part of $500 million in economic stimulus aid the government made available Friday.

The announcement was made by Yvette Rubidium, newly installed director of the Indian Health Service. A doctor and former clinical director serving tribes in Arizona, Rubidium grew up in South Dakota as a member of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe.

Here’s how the $500 million breaks down:

  • $227 million to help build hospitals in South Dakota and Alaska;
  • $100 million to maintain and renovate 302 medical facilities nationwide, including facilities on the Blackfeet, Crow, Flathead, Fort Peck, Fort Belknap and Rocky Boy’s reservations in Montana;
  • $85 million for health information technology;
  • $68 million for 169 sanitation projects, such as clean-water facilities, including money to help close a landfill on the Blackfeet Indian Reservation;
  • $20 million for medical equipment, including three ambulances for the Blackfeet Reservation, a digital mammography machine for the Flathead Indian Reservation and an ultrasound system for the Fort Belknap Indian Reservation.

All told, Montana will receive money for 46 projects.

“We know we have tremendous unmet needs in Indian Country and these funds won’t solve all of our problems, but they will move us in the right direction,” Rubidium said.

The money — part of a $787 billion economic stimulus package passed by Congress in February — was released a week after President Barack Obama unveiled a $454 million increase in Indian Health Service programs as part of his 2010 budget proposal.

The IHS, part of the Department of Health and Human Services, provides health services to about 1.5 million Native Americans and Alaska Natives who belong to more than 557 federally recognized tribes in 35 states.

Tribes frequently cite the lack of adequate health care as a major problem on reservations.

According to the Government Accountability Office, Native Americans living in IHS areas have lower life expectancies than the U.S. population as a whole, and have substantially higher rates for diseases such as diabetes. Fatal accidents, suicide and homicide also are more common among Native Americans.

A GAO report issued in 2005 found that while tribal health facilities offered basic care, patients often had to wait several months for an appointment and drive as far as 90 miles to access services. In addition, there were gaps for certain specialty services to diagnose and treat nonurgent conditions, such as arthritis, chronic pain and some dental procedures.