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Proposed IHS budget increase welcome news

PHOENIX – “My husband’s job is uncertain right now. They’re cutting back on his hours and we don’t want to worry about medical costs,” said Karen Manriquez, a resident of Glendale, Ariz., a suburb of Phoenix.

Manriquez, Assiniboine/Pauite, and her four children have been recipients of health care services offered by the Phoenix Indian Medical Center since 1989. The hospital, built in 1934 to provide service to up to 40,000 people, had 300,000 visits last year. It relies on federal funding provided to IHS, which is under the Department of Health and Human Service.

Manriquez and the 1.9 million American Indians and Alaska Natives who benefit from comprehensive health care services provided by IHS may enjoy expanded services if President Barack Obama has his way. His $4.03 billion dollar proposed budget is 13 percent more than the IHS fiscal year 2009 budget appropriation.

“This was part of the president’s initiative to make good to Native people. We’re getting a good increase,” said Don Davis, Phoenix area IHS director. If Congress approves the increase, Davis hopes to use the money to provide more telemedicine services to rural Indian communities. Telemedicine is nothing new to IHS; about 40 telemedicine programs and partnerships already exist.

According to the IHS Web site, remote villages in Alaska utilize telemedicine systems to provide transmission of digital images of patients’ ear drums, skin conditions and even tonsils to distant health care providers. These new systems also enable small rural communities to communicate during emergencies with social workers through video conferencing when transportation is difficult or impossible.

The proposed increase is sure to bring a sigh of relief to the more than 950 employees of the Phoenix Indian Medical Center. Two months ago rumors surfaced that the hospital would cut services.

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“They weren’t rumors,” insists Steven Miller, business manager of Laborers’ International Union of North America, IHS National Council. He said he understood services including critical care, labor and delivery, and inpatient operative procedures would go to contract health providers. “Many (employees had) contacted me to voice

their concerns.”

One of the largest increases ($117 million) in the president’s proposed budget for IHS is for more contract health services. “That’s where we need the money the most,” Davis said. But it doesn’t mean any services at PIMC will be cut. CHS is medical/dental care provided away from an IHS or tribal health care facility. Prosthetic devices and physician acupuncture services are examples.

Davis assured PIMC employees in an April 13 memo that “there are no plans or discussions which would result in a reduction of services nor will there be any employee layoffs or terminations because of current budget or

facility status.”

According to Davis, PIMC is at the top of the list for funding for a new facility; it may take as many as 10 years before funding becomes available. That’s just fine with Manriquez, who established roots in the Valley of the Sun.

Her family is among the 40,000 American Indians receiving health care from the 127-bed PIMC hospital. Karen and her husband, Raul, who is Hispanic, moved to the Phoenix area 20 years ago to start a new life. She goes to the hospital for annual exams and was recently treated for high blood pressure. Her children, now all grown, have children of their own who also rely on IHS for health care. Soon, the Manriquez’s daughter, Lillie, may give birth to her second child; their seventh grandchild at the facility.

“We definitely appreciate it (the proposed increase). That’s for sure,” Manriquez said.