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Tribal Council formally authorizes construction of St. Ignatius THHS Clinic

By B.L. Azure
THHS PIO

Willie Stevens, CSKT Facilities manager: John Wells, MacArthur, Means and Wells Architects, PC; Kevin Howlett, THHS director; and Colin Lane, MMW Architects recently met with the Tribal Council to get the go ahead on the construction of the St. Ignatius THHS Clinic project. The ground-breaking ceremonies are scheduled for 10 a.m. Wednesday, June 12 at the clinic. (B.L. Azure photo) Willie Stevens, CSKT Facilities manager: John Wells, MacArthur, Means and Wells Architects, PC; Kevin Howlett, THHS director; and Colin Lane, MMW Architects recently met with the Tribal Council to get the go ahead on the construction of the St. Ignatius THHS Clinic project. The ground-breaking ceremonies are scheduled for 10 a.m. Wednesday, June 12 at the clinic. (B.L. Azure photo)

ST. IGNATIUS — Tribal Health and Human Services Director Kevin Howlett will be purchasing some golden shovels this week after the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribal Council gave him the official green light to forge ahead with the construction of a new wing and remodeling of some of the existing portions of the St. Ignatius THHS Clinic. One wing of the existing will be demolished to make room for the new wing.

Howlett and architects John Wells and Colin Lane of MacArthur, Means and Wells Architects, PC of Missoula and CSKT Facilities Manager Willie Stevens met with the Tribal Council two weeks ago to update on the project and to inform them of the winning bid for the clinic construction project.

The Tribal Council in turn voted unanimously to release the funds for the project.

The winning bid from Swank Enterprises for the project came in under estimates, a rarity in the construction business that in part is the sign of the times in today’s economy where construction firms scramble for projects.

“We try to do accurate cost estimations but they are always kind of unpredictable,” Wells said. “This is the first time I’ve been involved where a bid came in well under what we anticipated. I think it reflects the construction climate in western Montana that is still a bit suppressed. That affects the wages (downwardly) people are willing to work for.”

Wells said there weren’t any change orders in the plans by the winning bidder but cautioned that there are more often than not unforeseen complications that arise once the rubber meets the road. He added that there are contingency funds set aside to address the unanticipated bumps in the road as well as potential relatively minor additions to the project if needed.

In the last 10 years THHS has expanded its clinical services and has turned from a bill payer to a service provider that gets paid for services it provides.

The funding for the clinics as well as increased health care staff is derived from funds paid by third party funding sources such as Medicare, Medicaid and Healthy Montana Kids for services the THHS clinics provide to tribal people under those programs. Funds received from the THHS provided services are kept in a stand-alone THHS account, not in a CSKT general fund line item and can only be used for health care.

“We will use the revenue we’ve collected to build clinics and improve health care on the reservation,” Howlett said recently. “We have come a long ways in ten years.”

Tribal Health has five clinics that are located in Elmo, Polson, Ronan, St. Ignatius and Arlee. The Elmo and Polson clinics are modern with ample floor space. Tribal Health has a memorandum of understanding with the non-THHS clinic in Hot Springs to ensure access to it for folks eligible for THHS services.

New THHS clinics in Ronan and Arlee are also on the Tribal Health to-do list.

Besides the expanded access to clinical facilities the additional clinics have created at least 40 new fulltime health care related jobs.

Howlett said the prime example of the course change is the new Polson THHS Clinic.

“Our workers and membership deserve the best health care services we can get them,” said Polson District Councilman Steve Lozar in his motion to approve the funding for the project. “It is to all of our benefit to deliver quality health service in quality facilities by a well qualified professional health care staff.”

In all the St. Ignatius THHS Clinic will have 37,000 square feet that includes 14,800 square feet of new construction; 14,800 square feet of remodeled floor space; and 7,400 square feet of unaffected floor space.

• The ground-breaking ceremonies are scheduled for 10 a.m. Wednesday, June 12 at the clinic. The public and local news media are invited to attend the ceremonies.

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