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New medical ID project targets tribal market

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ONEIDA, N.Y. - Imagine being rushed unconscious to a strange hospital where nobody knows your name, your family or your medical history.

In the crucial first minutes, your life could hang on how much the doctor knows about your allergies or conditions like high blood pressure or diabetes.

Or say you're the grandparent of a small child who suddenly falls ill, and the hospital can't give him the treatment he needs without permission from his absent parents.

These are nightmares a new project of Catawba Identification Products is trying to prevent. A Rock Hill, S.C.-based enterprise of the Catawba Indian Nation, CIP is promoting a "Health Tags Plus" service that would make health records and legal permissions available in hospital emergencies. It is working in partnership with record retrieval specialists Wright and Co. of Washington, D.C., and Member Services Center Inc. of Arnold, Mo., which maintains the personal data base.

"There's a definite need out there," said Dewey L. Adams, director of marketing for CIP. He said these scenarios, presented during the recent annual meeting of the United South and Eastern Tribes, "were all true stories."

Adams said 14 of the 24 tribes at the conference asked for follow-up meetings. "That was a pretty good response. That was our first time out."

The system would provide each member of a tribal health service with a yellow ID card or key chain tag including the member number and an 800 telephone number to a 24-hour response center.

Tony Niskanen of Wright and Co. said the high-security center in Arnold would have member information on file.

On a call from a hospital, the center would provide a list of allergies, medical conditions and medications already being taken, Niskanen said. For children, it would keep on file a signed permission-to-treat form from the parents. It would also maintain phone and pager numbers for the member's doctor and pharmacist and ways to contact family members.

Niskanen said the center would also keep copies of medical directives like powers of attorney, living wills and Do Not Resuscitate Orders. It would fax them directly to the hospitals. He emphasized the service would be confidential.

He said the center would double check all requests for emergency faxes before sending them on. As a safeguard, he said, the center would only send faxes to verified telephone numbers for hospitals or urgent care centers.

Wright and Co. has been marketing the service for the past six months, focusing on labor unions, government agencies like the FBI and hospitals, Adams said. It began to work with the Catawba company in targeting the tribal market two and half months ago.

Adams said his company would start visiting the interested tribes during the first two weeks of December and hoped to start making the cards by Jan. 1.

"We were introduced to them through our alliance with Pequot Pharmaceuticals," Adams said. CIP provides membership cards for that program, an enterprise of the Mashantucket Pequots.

Although CIP expects health tags to be a major part of its business, it also provides ID cards for Indian tribes, county agencies and colleges, Adams said. The biggest part of its business now, he said, comes from making cards for promotional direct mailings.

"We're a new business," he said. "We're still working on growing the company."

The Catawba Indian Nation set up the company with funds from a 1993 land suit settlement with the state of South Carolina and the federal government. The tribe put part of the settlement money into an economic development fund, which provided start-up money for CIP.