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Antonio and the Oklahoma City Indian Clinic

Antonio Fuentes-Scott, Creek, is a nine-year-old boy who enjoys bicycles
and dinosaurs. He is a healthy and active honor roll student and academic
student of the month at Arthur Elementary School. Antonio is also one of
4,860 American Indian youths who are patients at the Oklahoma City Indian
Clinic.

With no private health care insurance, and the best alternative being an
80-mile drive to the Creek Nation Clinic in Okemah, Antonio has received
services from the Oklahoma City Indian Clinic for most of his life.

Having the normal assortment of ear infections, well-child checkups, a case
or two of poison ivy, even a broken front tooth, Antonio has been well
taken care of. But the clinic's ability to do that successfully is the
result of an on-going campaign conducted by a driven and highly dedicated
group of people.

Beginning back in 1974 as an Indian-controlled, nonprofit corporation,
OKCIC operates with the singular purpose of serving the health care needs
of American Indians in central Oklahoma. In the beginning, like programs in
other urban areas across the country, the clinic operated in cramped,
antiquated facilities, was initially staffed by volunteer physicians and
nurses, and operated with donated medical supplies and equipment.

After the 1976 Indian Health Care Improvement Act, however, the clinic
enjoyed the recognition and limited support of the federal government and
the modicum of resources that followed.

OKCIC continued to grow and expand programs, and in 1995 began serving
patients from its new 27,000-square-foot Corinne Y. Halfmoon Medical
Facility, delivering a wide range of services including medical, prenatal,
dental, pharmacy and optometry, as well as family, behavioral and substance
abuse counseling and treatment. The clinic provides X-ray, ultrasound, lab
and mammography services. Clinic patients make use of diabetes and
cardiovascular treatment and services, in addition to health and nutrition
education and preventative care services.

OKCIC serves over 15,000 patients from more than 220 federally recognized
tribes, employs a diverse staff of about 90 people, and adheres to IHS's
Indian preference hiring policy.

Getting Antonio through childhood is one thing; getting him through
adulthood is another. Diabetes looms over the head of every American
Indian, and the best prevention is education over a lifetime. Antonio's
mother, Alice Scott, is fully aware of the dangers of diabetes.

She has it. And she's lost family members to it as well.

It's no surprise then that as a mother of a healthy, active young American
Indian boy, she would want to keep him that way. So Antonio is a regular
attendee of the clinic's nutrition, physical activity and diabetes
education and prevention programs and events. Weigh-To-Go! is a summer
program that teaches children about the importance of proper nutrition and
being physically active. The participants learn to make healthy choices in
the grocery store and even at fast-food restaurants. They learn that being
physically active becomes an important habit when they are adults.

TURTLE Camp is another summer program that Antonio attends regularly. At
TURTLE, which stands for Teaching Urbans Roads To Lifestyle and Exercise,
participants receive education from nutritionists and prominent local
Indian leaders, have healthy, tasty meals served to them and have a good
time while learning that avoiding diabetes, whether they like it or not,
can only be done by living a life filled with healthy choices.

That's not necessarily something a boy wants to hear when he's just trying
to carry out the serious business of being a boy. But diabetes, and urban
Indian health care in general, is serious business as well.

Prior to the 1950s, most American Indians resided on reservations, in
nearby rural towns or in tribal jurisdictional areas. During this era, the
federal government passed legislation that resulted in policies designed to
assimilate Indian people into mainstream American society. These policies
enticed Indian families living on impoverished Indian reservations to
relocate to various urbanized areas across the country.

Today, 66 percent of all American Indians identified in the 2000 Census
reside in urban areas. While many Indian families prospered in the cities,
thousands found themselves without basic services, especially health care.

In order to address the expanding problem of lack of access to basic health
care, a number of urban communities established volunteer Indian centers
and free health clinics. These community-based grassroots efforts resulted
in programs, such as OKCIC, that targeted health and outreach services to
the Indian community. To this day, however, only a small percentage of IHS
money goes to the 34 urban Indian health care programs. The vast majority
goes to the other 151 IHS clinics, hospitals and tribal programs that are
located in rural areas where 66 percent of the American Indian population
do not live.

It's not important that Antonio knows that due to inequities in federal
funding, his health care services are more imperiled and tenuous than they
ought to be. He just needs to know the Oklahoma City Indian Clinic has been
there for him in the past, and that it will be there for him as he moves
into adulthood.

It's not imperative that Antonio knows there is an ongoing struggle for
adequate funding of urban Indian health care programs.

But it is important that you know.

Terry Hunter is CEO of the Oklahoma City Indian Clinic.