Fort Peck Tribe asks Congress to look into IHS

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GREAT FALLS, Mont. (AP) - The Fort Peck Tribal Executive Board has declared a health care emergency on the reservation and has asked Congress to look into delivery of medical care by the IHS.

''A congressional investigation is needed to specify and document the state of the reservation's health services,'' states a recently released tribal resolution.

Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., a member of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee, said his office had not received the request for an investigation.

''There's no doubt there's a crisis situation when it comes to health care in Indian country,'' Tester told the Great Falls Tribune, which reported the story July 6. ''I have yet to receive the letter, but will keep working closely with all tribes and the Senate Indian Affairs Committee to address the issues they face.''

Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., said he hoped the Indian Health Care Improvement Act, passed overwhelmingly by the Senate in February and pending in the House of Representatives, would resolve the problems.

''The crisis we're talking about has been building for years due to a lack of funding and a lack of true leadership in the IHS,'' said tribal Medical Director James Melbourne.

He said the tribe has spent $16,000 to $20,000 to provide its own kidney dialysis machines and replace them every couple of years.

''The IHS is not paying for that equipment because it's not a priority of theirs,'' Melbourne said. ''And I had to find $2,000 to purchase a coloscope so we could provide examinations of sexually abused children.''

Pete Conway, associate IHS director for tribal and urban programs in Billings, was traveling and not available for comment, according to his office.

The tribe doesn't have diagnostic equipment for gastrointestinal complaints, Melbourne said, adding only the most serious cases can be referred for medical attention in Billings.

''We need diagnostic equipment such as ultrasound machines,'' he said.

Melbourne said that most of the babies born to reservation residents are delivered off the reservation because the tribal hospital and clinics can't recruit or retain a nurse anesthesiologist.

''And if there's a problem with a [Caesarean] section, we have to fly the patient to Billings or ground-transport her to Glasgow,'' he said.

Maternal/child health care also is a problem.

''Because of the high rate of alcohol and drug addiction, it's difficult to address population growth in a professional manner,'' Melbourne said. ''We lack addiction counseling and nutrition services.''

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