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Bush won't bail out urban Indian health center
Monday, January 31, 2005
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.
Indian Health Service - http://www.ihs.gov
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