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Health
PBS: Inadequate funding kills Indian patients


"BETTY ANN BOWSER: A hundred miles west of Hagerman is another area with an acute doctor shortage, the Mescalero Apache Indian Reservation. The only medical facility on the 460,000-acre reservation is this 13-bed hospital run by the federal government's Indian Health Service, or the IHS.

The Mescalero Apaches, and other Native American tribes, were promised health care through treaties with the federal government and by an act of Congress in 1921, but the IHS has been chronically underfunded by Washington for decades.

Just three doctors serve 4,000 Mescalero Apaches, and only the most basic medical conditions can be treated. Even though the Mescalero Apaches own this big resort and casino, the vast majority are unemployed.

CARLETON NAICHE-PALMER, president, Mescalero Apache Tribe: About three-quarters of the reservation is forest.

BETTY ANN BOWSER: Carleton Naiche-Palmer, president of the tribal council, says that means poor health outcomes.

CARLETON NAICHE-PALMER: Because of the lack of funding, we have people that are dying prematurely because of various diseases like diabetes.

BETTY ANN BOWSER: The New Mexico Department of Health says the state's 200,000 Native Americans have the highest rates of diabetes, pneumonia, and alcoholism of any other group in the state, and the highest death rate.

Some tribal members, like Ellis and Nina Tortilla, don't like to go the Indian Health Service, because they think the care is inadequate. Sixty-two-year-old Ellis Tortilla lives on Social Security disability payments and has no insurance. Still, he won't go to the IHS unless he's desperate.

Recently, Tortilla needed abdominal surgery. Since the IHS wasn't equipped to do the procedure, they referred him to an outside doctor. When they refer a patient to medical facilities off the reservation, the IHS is supposed to pay for that treatment."

Get the Story:
New Mexico Residents Struggle to Navigate Health Care System in Crisis (PBS Newshour 10/15)

Related Stories:
Broken promise on Indian health care bill (10/13)