Sen Walsh listening session hears tribal elder concerns
By. B.L. Azure
Sen. John Walsh takes some notes at the tribal elder listening session last week at SKC. (B.L. Azure photo)
PABLO — Democrat Senator John Walsh spent part of the Congressional Easter break meeting with tribal leaders at various Indian Reservations in the Big Sky state. Last week he spent time on the Flathead Reservation to, among other things, conduct a listening session at Salish Kootenai College pertaining to a smorgasbord of elder related issues. He got an earful of the needs of the tribal elders and others who are negatively impacted by the double-barreled onslaught of a depressed economy and sequestration that have pinched up the federal budget. The result in some cases has been the elimination or cutbacks of some services to the tribal elders due to the lack of adequate federal funding.
Walsh said the federal budget shortfalls are the result of Republican led obstructionism and a Republican crafted budget proposal that cuts into services for the most vulnerable people while leaving the upper income tax payers and corporations for the most part unscathed. He said that needs to change and said that is why he is running to retain the U.S. Senate he currently occupies.
“What can I do to help shore up or improve the programs that affect seniors in your area, how can I help?” Walsh asked of the 30 plus people at the listening session.
Tribal Health and Human Services Director Kevin Howlett said the Indian Health Service is chronically under funded and that negatively impacts health care services it provides through the IHS Contract Health Services. Right now health care procedures are only okayed and paid for by IHS CHS if they are life or limb threatening.
The fiscal year 2015 IHS budget received an infusion of $200 million to bring the total to $4.6 billion, a 4.5 percent increase over the FY 2014 IHS budget. That amount is fairly substantial but isn’t when present funding accounts for roughly 50 percent of identified need in Indian Country.
Jerry Brown told Sen. Walsh that he was the right Montanan to fill the seat of retired Sen. Max Baucus and urged folks to vote for him because the alternatives are not good for Indian Country. (B.L. Azure photo)
Howlett said that Tribal Health is putting the pedal to the metal in seeking out other sources of health care funding and/or revenue to weather the monetary shortfalls. The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) is a game changer when it comes to health care services provision for tribal people, he added.
“There are a lot of better health care opportunities in the Affordable Care Act for the elderly,” Howlett said, adding that Tribal Health provides $1 million annually for in-home health care for tribal elders. “That funding comes from revenue generated at our clinics for services we provide. We will be doing a pilot project to find out the real needs of our elderly population. We need to identify and quantify their needs whether they are for housing, transportation, nutrition, or health care. We have the utmost concern about our elders and we have a commitment to help them live in dignity. I encourage you to continue your travels in Indian Country listen to their concerns.”
Sen. Walsh said the first thing he would do when he got back to Washington, DC is check on the anemic Indian Health Service budget. “I am your partner, a partner in Indian Country,” Walsh said. “The first call I’ll make when I get back to Washington will be to the Indian Health Service.”
Helen Camel of the Adult Protective Services program echoed Howlett’s concern about adequate funding to properly assist the tribal elders.
Sen. John Walsh told folks gathered at the Arlee Charlo Theater that he is a friend of Indian Country. (B.L. Azure photo)
“We presently have real minimal services that we provide for the elderly,” Camel said. The program is presently underfunded. “Our resources have been eliminated or reduced and that affects our ability to provide needed services for our most vulnerable population. I am pleading with you to help provide adequate funding for the tribes.”
“I am disheartened at where Indian Country is at in 2014,” Walsh said. “We need to help Indian Country get to where it needs to be. I will do that. I am your partner.”
“This is a historic day on our reservation,” said Tribal Council Chairman Ron Trahan. “This is the first time a U.S. senator has met with tribal elders in a listening session. The elders are among the most needy and they do have a voice that needs to be heard.”
Sen. Walsh was recently appointed to the U.S. Senate by Governor Steve Bullock to fill the seat vacated by retiring Senator Max Baucus, who has since been appointed the ambassador of China.