Cantwell calls for new IHS clinic

WASHINGTON, D.C. – A new Indian Health Clinic is needed for the Colville Confederated Tribes in Omak, according to U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash.

She advocated for a new clinic during a hearing of the U.S. Senate Committee on Indian Affairs last week.

The tribes “definitely need a new Omak clinic and the tribes are currently operating in an outdated modular building that cannot meet the patients’ needs and is understaffed,” said Cantwell.

In 2014, the tribe was denied federal funding for new medical facilities. In prior years, Indian Health Service has penalized tribal applications for the joint ventures program if the proposed facility were to be located within a certain distance of non-Indian hospitals, even if tribal members are unable to use those hospitals without their tribes paying for visits out of IHS funds, said Cantwell.

During the hearing, Cantwell enlisted the help of Rear Adm. Chris Buchanan, deputy director of Indian Health Service, to find ways to get new medical facilities for the tribes.

“The joint venture program is the only way that Colville (tribes) will be able to make the community updates that they need,” said Cantwell. “So, will you reevaluate the criteria of this next round? Will you talk about Colville and how – I mean if there are other ideas beside the joint venture program I would like to hear them but – how can they benefit from moving forward and getting a facility in the Omak area?”

In response, Buchanan spoke about his visit to Omak and pledged to work with the tribe to meet application requirements for IHS funding for new medical facilities.

“I’ve been to Omak … so I understand the facility that they are operating out of,” Buchanan said. “So, I can commit to you our headquarters office, our Portland office, will assist the Colville tribe in working with those applications. The concerns you raised regarding the hospital close by and the tribes’ desire to build a clinic nearby, I think we can assist the tribes in meeting those application requirements.”

Tribal leaders welcomed assistance from HIS.

“The Colville (Confederated) Tribes has struggled for decades with chronic staffing and facilities needs, especially in the Omak area,” said Colville Business Council Chairman Rodney Cawston. “These needs are not being met and a new clinic in Omak is the only way to provide quality health care to residents in that community.

“We are encouraged that IHS has committed to work with us to address these issues and reexamine inequitable criteria in the joint venture construction program.”

At the hearing, which was held to examine the Trump administration’s fiscal year 2020 budget request for Indian programs, Cantwell also criticized proposed funding cuts for programs in Indian Country and emphasized the need to invest in rural economies in Washington and throughout the country.

“Rural economic infrastructure investment means having rural health care,” she said. “So I hope we will get this worked out. I just can’t understand why you would eliminate investment opportunities to Indian Country.”