Tuesday, February 01, 2005

Bush won't bail out urban Indian health center

from: www.indianz.com

New Mexico's two senators blasted the Bush administration on Friday for denying funds to an urban Indian health facility that is facing closure within months.

Sen. Pete Domenici (R) and Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D) reacted with disappointment after learning that the Albuquerque Indian Health Center will not receive the money it needs to stay open. The Indian Health Service (IHS) refused the senators' request for $5 million to ensure that 25,000 tribal members who make their home in the state's largest city will receive medical care.

"Barring a last-minute reprieve, this center faces sure closure," said Domenici. "There is little chance that Congress can provide any immediate funding, and the IHS assessment is that it has no funding available."

"This is an unacceptable situation," added Bingaman. "The Albuquerque Indian Health Center has already cut back dramatically on the care it offers Native Americans living here, and now the center is being forced to do it again."

The bad news came from Dr. Charles Grim, the director of the IHS. In a letter last week, the Bush appointee said the request for additional funds "is not a viable option because of limited funds throughout our system t o deliver health care services." So he ordered a "downsize" and a "reduction-in-force" at the facility.

"I am confident that the [Albuquerque] Area Office and the service unit will explore all opportunities to provide the highest quality health care to this population," Grim wrote.

The center has been under financial stress for the past few years. Hours have been cut, staff has been reduced and services have been scaled back as funds have dried up.

According to IHS, one source of the problem is that more money is going to tribal governments in the area for their own health programs. More than a half dozen Pueblos and Navajo Nation communities are within driving distance of Albuquerque, and six of the tribes have clinics and service units on their own lands.

To stay afloat, the center said it needed $5 million in federal funds or it would close its urgent care clinic, the lifeblood of the facility, on January 1. An estimated 100 to 200 patients received urgent care every day.

In hopes of preventing that from happening, Domenici and Bingaman last month asked Grim to use his discretion to reprogram $13 million in IHS funds. They wanted $5 million to stabilize services and $8 million to improve services. The center's existing budget is about $5.4 million.

The crisis developed too late for the senators to include earmarks or special provisions in the fiscal year 2005 budget that could save the center
. Still, Congress in November approved $3.0 billion for the IHS, an increase over the amount that had been sought by the Bush administration.

Despite the influx of money, Grim insisted that there isn't enough to go around. In his letter, he said alternatives are being considered, such as working with the state of New Mexico and tribes and obtaining "fiscal support" from the Navajo area office, which just opened a $12.5 million expansion of an urban Indian clinic in Gallup.

Domenici and Bingaman said they will continue to work to find a solution to the problem. Bingaman said he will write to Mike Leavitt, the new secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services, which oversees the IHS.

Cold Weather Gear for Pine Ridge Reservation Families

Winter has hit hard on the reservation and there are many families who lack the proper warm clothing and gear to protect them from the bitter cold, including children and elders. In the last couple of weeks the temperatures dropped below zero and there's no telling when it will happen again.

Please check your closets for items in like-new condition or do some shopping for coats, jackets, sweaters, sweatshirts, hooded sweatshirts, hats, gloves, scarves, ear warmers/headbands, ski masks, new blankets and new socks to send to the community of Red Shirt. These will be distributed to local families so we are seeking all sizes--newborns through elders!

Red Shirt is an isolated community so not many donations make it there. The only community facilities there are the elementary school and the Head Start building. The town is far from the nearest post office, their letter-sized mail is delivered only 3 times a week, and those that receive packages in the mail must make the trek to Hermosa, 22 miles away, to pick them up. Please help us keep these families warm!

Please send your donations via the U.S. Post Office to:

Marlene Stout
Red Shirt School
HCR 89
Box 313
Hermosa, SD 57744


Winter Fuel Emergency Fund American Indian Relief Council
PO Box 6200
Rapid City, SD 57709-6200


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