Tribes in Virginia join forces with Indian Health Service
Thursday, September 8, 2022
By Acee Agoyo
CHARLES CITY, Virginia — Tribal nations here are ushering in a new era in health care after securing recognition from the federal government.
Since re-establishing their government-to-government relationships with the United States, seven tribes have been working closely with the Indian Health Service. The efforts include two health centers and three mobile units that will bring long-overdue care to people across a broad region in the state of Virginia.
“You know, often times tribes get called in to consult — after decisions have been made,” Chief Stephen R. Adkins of the Chickahominy Tribe told Indianz.Com.
“What makes this project in my view extremely unique is we’ve been at the table with Indian Health Service from day one,” Adkins said following an event on his people’s homelands.
Michael Bibbo: Indian Health Service Mid-Atlantic Mobile Health Services
With partners from the federal agency at his side, Adkins on Wednesday showed off the mobile units that represent the emerging chapter in the federal-tribal relationship. The three state-of-the-art vehicles will provide primary, behavioral health and dental care to citizens of the Indian nations whose sovereign status had long been overlooked despite their proximity to the U.S. capital.
“We knew that there had to be an innovative way to do health care for this area,”
Dr. Vickie Claymore, the director of field operations for the Nashville Area Office of the IHS, said of the unique approach the agency has taken in Virginia.
At the event on Wednesday, the three mobile health units were parked on land owned by the Chickahominy Tribe in Charles City, located only about 20 minutes from Richmond, the capital of Virginia. The vehicles, which feature waiting areas, service rooms and an advanced air filtration system to address COVID-19 and other concerns, will soon be deployed at reservations and tribal sites across the state in the coming weeks.
“One of the goals of Indian Health Service is to be able to provide comprehensive and culturally aware and culturally sensitive health care to our Native American communities,”
said Kara Kearns, the Chief Executive Officer of the Mid-Atlantic Service Unit that was established by the IHS to benefit the seven tribes.
“A big piece of that revolves around accessibility and availability,” Kearns added.
“And we really thought hard about how that availability would fit into this model.”
As part of the ongoing work, the Charles City location will soon host another landmark event. The tribes and the IHS are planning to break ground on the Mid-Atlantic Tribal Health Center at the site to bring even a greater level of care and programs to the region.
“This is just awesome, seeing what Indian Health Service is bringing here to Virginia Natives,” said Chief Robert Gray of the Pamunkey Tribe.
The forthcoming center and the mobile units are designed to serve the Chickahominy Tribe, the Eastern Chickahominy Tribe, the Pamunkey Tribe, the Rappahannock Tribe, the Nansemond Nation and the Upper Mattaponi Tribe. The tribes are located primarily in the region surrounding Richmond in eastern Virginia.
Elsewhere, the IHS already broke ground on a facility that will serve the Monacan Nation, whose homelands are in another region of the state. The Monacan Health Center in Virginia Heights, located about two hours west of Richmond, is expected to open by the end of 2023.
“We knew that making, availability was key in establishing a clinic on that side of the state but it was also very important that we have one here that would be centralized for these tribes,” Kearns said of the two IHS facilities that will debut in the coming years.
The Pamunkey Tribe was the first in Virginia to gain federal recognition, having gone through the Bureau of Indian Affairs for acknowledgment of its status. The process, which became final in February 2016, took more than seven years to complete.
The six other tribes gained recognition by going through Congress, a process that took even longer to navigate. The Thomasina E. Jordan Indian Tribes of Virginia Federal Recognition Act was signed into law in January 2018.
For one local official, federal recognition for the tribes brings tangible benefits. Bill Coada, the Chair of the Board of Supervisors for Charles City County, said the mobile units and the forthcoming health center will provide a level of care to a community that has long gone without adequate services.
“That’s why this is gonna be such an amazing benefit to citizens of the county, and of course the tribe,” Coada said in an interview at the future site of the Mid-Atlantic Tribal Health Center, which is located in his district of the county.
“We hurt for medical attention in this county,” Coada told Indianz.Com. He pointed out that Charles City currently only has one health clinic.
Stephen R. Adkins serves as Chief of the Chickahominy Tribe. He is seen here in Charles City, Virginia, at a site owned by his tribe. Photo by Indianz.Com (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0)
Chief Adkins also stressed the importance of his tribe’s ongoing efforts with local government. Working together, the Chickahominy and the county have established a paid fire department, a 24-hour emergency service and an ambulance service for the entire community — all in the years following federal recognition.
“We have an exemplary relationship with the leadership in Charles City County and we work together well,” Adkins said at the event on Wednesday.
The IHS will be leasing the land from the Chickahominy Tribe for the Mid-Atlantic Tribal Health Center. The site, located in an area of Charles City known as the Roxbury Industrial Center, is not currently held in trust. Adkins said the tribe is carefully planning when — and where — it will begin the fee-to-trust process.
A poster showing a rendering of the future Mid-Atlantic Tribal Health Center is seen in Charles City, Virginia, on September 7, 2022. Photo by Indianz.Com (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0)
“The site on which the Indian Health Service clinic will be built is a multipurpose site,” Adkins said in an interview with Indianz.Com. “We have our housing department located in an office on this site. Our child childcare development facility leaders are on this site.”
“We plan to have a community food pantry here. We have refrigeration units in one of the larger warehouses,” Adkins continued. “In addition, we plan to have a vo-tech center where we’ll teach welding, plumbing and computer skills. It will just offer a wide variety of vo-tech activities that will prepare people to enter this marketplace.”
CEO Kearns of the IHS Mid-Atlantic Service Unit estimated the cost of the Mid-Atlantic Tribal Health Center at $18 million. She said the Monacan Health Center is coming in at about $14 million. The mobile units each cost about $400,000, she added.
In addition to the Chickahominy, Eastern Chickahominy and Pamunkey leaders, Chief Frank Adams of the Upper Mattaponi Tribe took part in the event on Wednesday. Like his colleagues, he is looking forward to a brighter future for his people, thanks to the new relationship with the IHS, whose staff were on hand for tours of the mobile units that are being deployed in Virginia.
“It’s really exciting to be involved and to see these trucks and to meet everybody. that’s dealing with the health and welfare of Upper Mattaponi tribal citizens, as well as the other tribes of the state,” Adams said.
Chairman Bill Coada of the Board of Supervisors in Charles City County, left, and Chief Stephen R. Adkins of the Chickahominy Tribe view a site plan for the future Mid-Atlantic Tribal Health Center in Charles City, Virginia, on September 7, 2022. Photo by Indianz.Com (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0)