Cantwell Pushes for New Health Clinic for Colville Reservation, Omak Community

Cantwell secures commitment from Indian Health Service to assist Tribe in pursuing new health care facility

WASHINGTON, D.C. – At a hearing of the U.S. Senate Committee on Indian Affairs this week, U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA), a former chair of the committee, called for a new health clinic for the Colville Tribes and Omak community.

“[The Colville Tribes] definitely need a new Omak clinic and the Tribes are currently operating in an outdated modular building that cannot meet the patients’ needs and is understaffed,” said Cantwell.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 Colville Tribes were denied federal funding for new medical facilities. In prior years, the Indian Health Service (IHS) 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 utilize those hospitals without their Tribes paying for visits out of IHS funds. 

In the hearing, Cantwell enlisted the help of Rear Admiral Chris Buchanan, the Deputy Director of the Indian Health Service, to find ways to get new medical facilities for the Tribes.

“The Joint Venture Program is the only way that Colville will be able to make the community updates that they need. 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,” Cantwell asked.

In response, Buchanan spoke about his visit to Omak and pledged to work with the Colville Tribes 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.”

The Colville Tribes welcomed the assistance from IHS.

“The Colville Tribes has struggled for decades with chronic staffing and facilities needs, especially in the Omak area. These needs are not being met and a new clinic in Omak is the only way to provide quality healthcare 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," said Rodney Cawston, chairman of the Colville Business Council.

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. So I hope we will get this worked out,” Cantwell said. “I just can’t understand why you would eliminate investment opportunities to Indian Country.”