Shut­down puts strain on hun­dreds of Na­tive Amer­i­can tribes

Daily Times (Primos, PA) - - NEWS - By Feli­cia Fon­seca

FLAGSTAFF, ARIZ. >> Fall­out from the fed­eral gov­ern­ment shut­down is hurt­ing Na­tive Amer­i­cans as dwin­dling funds ham­per ac­cess to health care and other ser­vices. The pain is es­pe­cially deep in tribal com­mu­ni­ties with high rates of poverty and un­em­ploy­ment, where one per­son of­ten sup­ports an ex­tended fam­ily.

The ef­fects were be­ing felt far and wide.

In New Mex­ico, a lone po­lice of­fi­cer pa­trolled a Na­tive Amer­i­can reser­va­tion larger in size than Hous­ton on a shift that nor­mally has three peo­ple, re­spond­ing to mul­ti­ple car wrecks dur­ing a snow storm, emer­gency calls and re­quests for wel­fare checks.

Else­where, fed­er­ally funded road main­te­nance pro­grams are op­er­at­ing with skele­ton crews and strug­gling to keep roads clear on re­mote reser­va­tions. Tribal mem­bers said they can’t get re­fer­rals for spe­cialty care from the In­dian Health Ser­vice if their con­di­tions aren’t life-threat­en­ing.

Na­tive Amer­i­can tribes rely heav­ily on fund­ing guar­an­teed by treaties with the U.S., acts of Con­gress and other agree­ments for pub­lic safety, so­cial ser­vices, ed­u­ca­tion and health care for their mem­bers. Be­cause of the shut­down, tribal of­fi­cials say some pro­grams are on the brink of col­lapse and oth­ers are sur­viv­ing with tribes fill­ing fund­ing gaps.

About 9,000 In­dian Health Ser­vice em­ploy­ees, or 60 per­cent, are work­ing with­out pay and 35 per­cent are work­ing with fund­ing streams not af­fected by the shut­down, ac­cord­ing to the Health and Hu­man Ser­vices depart­ment’s shut­down plan. That in­cludes staff pro­vid­ing di­rect care to pa­tients. The agency de­liv­ers health care to about 2.2 mil­lion Na­tive Amer­i­cans and Alaska Na­tives.

The agency gets money from the In­te­rior Depart­ment, whose bud­get is snared by the shut­down. For many tribal mem­bers, IHS is the only op­tion for health care un­less they want to pay out of pocket or have other in­sur­ance. Ben­e­fits un­der pro­grams like So­cial Se­cu­rity, Medi­care and Med­i­caid are un­af­fected by the par­tial gov­ern­ment shut­down.

Much ad­min­is­tra­tive work at IHS has come to a halt, and while most of it doesn’t have an im­me­di­ate ef­fect on health care de­liv­ery, some pa­tients were ex­pe­ri­enc­ing de­lays. Clara Pratte’s 68-year-old mother had surgery to clear up vi­sion in one of her eyes ear­lier this month, but the Navajo woman wasn’t able to get a re­fer­ral from IHS for a fol­low-up ap­point­ment after pres­sure built up in her eye.

“We’re manag­ing, but it’s a mat­ter of when the gov­ern­ment might open again to have it eval­u­ated by a spe­cial­ist,” Pratte said.

In Wash­ing­ton state, the Seat­tle In­dian Health Board plans to cut ser­vices if the fed­eral shut­down con­tin­ues more than a week or two. En­dan­gered pro­grams in­clude an in-pa­tient treat­ment cen­ter for chem­i­cal de­pen­dency and a tra­di­tional medicine pro­gram that in­cor­po­rates a sweat lodge, sto­ry­telling and drum­ming to help peo­ple in re­cov­ery, gov­ern­ment af­fairs of­fi­cer Aren Sparck said.


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