|September 5, 2013
Gov. Steve Bullock tours Polson THHS Clinic
By B.L. Azure
THHS Director Kevin Howlett informs Gov. Steve Bullock on the ever-changing face of Tribal Health and its healthcare delivery system on the Flathead Indian Reservation. (From left, are: Howlett, Gov. Bullock, Jim Malloy, senior counselor; Ray Beck, Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation; Siri Smillie, policy advisor; and, Tribal Councilmen Steve Lozar. (B.L. Azure photo)
POLSON — The three-year-old Polson Tribal Health and Human Services Clinic is a brick and mortar testament to the Indian Education and Self-Determination Act of 1975.
The Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes THHS Department compacts the management and delivery of much of the healthcare on the Flathead Indian Reservation from the Indian Health Service under the auspices of the Act. And in doing so Tribal Health has morphed from a payer of healthcare bills to a provider that collects revenue for the services it provides to eligible service clientele.
The third-party revenue collections covered the cost of construction of the Polson THHS Clinic and are paying for the expansion and remodeling of the St. Ignatius THHS Clinic. The Tribal Council is presently negotiating with the Montana Department of Transportation for a location and cost of construction of a new THHS clinic in Ronan. The present clinic is in the path of one of southbound couplet lane through Ronan.
The revenues have also allowed for the creation of several well-paying jobs within THHS. There are presently 130 THHS employees; 40 of the positions were created with the construction of the Polson THHS Clinic.
Tribal Councilman Steve Lozar tells Gov. Steve Bullock about the cold shoulder former U.S. Representative Denny Rehberg (R-Mont.) gave on his last visit to the Polson THHS Clinic. It was Rehberg’s last stop prior to the infamous Flathead Lake boat crash. (B.L. Azure photo)
Recently Democratic Governor Steve Bullock and several of his staff members paid a visit to the Polson THHS Clinic during a swing through western Montana.
Tribal Health Director Kevin Howlett and Polson District Tribal Council Representative Steve Lozar were on hand to inform the governor and his entourage about the delivery of healthcare to eligible beneficiaries on the Flathead Reservation.
Howlett said the journey to this point in Tribal Health began in 1993 and shifted gears from bill payer to its present operation formula a bit more than a decade ago.
“Tribal Health is a now a revenue generator,” Howlett told Gov. Bullock. “That has allowed us to become a job creator. We have two medical doctors that are tribal members working at Tribal Health. We also have two tribal member pharmacists and two tribal member dentists on staff.”
Democrat Governor Steve Bullock got cornered by a couple of Dixon Demons — Kevin Howlett and Dr. Gary Pitts — during the governor’s tour of the Polson THHS Clinic’s Dental Program. (B.L. Azure photo)
Howlett said another big factor in the expansion of Tribal Health and its mission is because of Tribal Council understanding of the importance of healthcare delivery to the tribal people.
“We have been able to develop our system, create employment opportunities because we are insulated from tribal politics,” Howlett said. “We are building a healthcare program that people will feel confident when using it.”
“The Tribal Council embraces this kind of development. When you consider where we have been to this point, it’s incredible on what has been accomplished,” Lozar said, adding that the former Polson THHS Clinic was far beyond inadequate to provide for the needs of the Polson area beneficiaries. “The membership deserves the very best healthcare we can give them.”
Gov. Steve Bullock stopped by to visit with the Tribal Council on his recent swing through western Montana. From left, are: Ray Peck, Jason Smith, Siri Smillie, Lloyd Irvine, Jimmy Malatare, Ron Trahan, Gov. Bullock, Joe Durglo, Leonard Gray, Terry Pitts, Steve Lozar, Jim Malloy and Kevin Howlett. (B.L. Azure photo)
“We are awfully proud of what we have here,” said Dr. Gary Pitts, Dental Division manager. “And we’ve only just begun with the dental program. Everyday used to be drill and fill. Not so much anymore though. But we still have to change peoples’ expectations of the dental program as well as their individual responsibilities when it comes to dental health and appointments.”
“We couldn’t do what we’ve done without the backing we get from the Tribal Council,” Howlett said. “That and the stars being lined up just right.”
Bullock was accompanied by Jim Malloy, senior counselor; Siri Smillie, policy advisor; Ray Beck, Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation; and Jason Smith, Indian Affairs.