New St. Ignatius THHS Clinic dedicated last week
By B.L. Azure
After many months of construction and a few delays, the new St. Ignatius Clinic wing is complete. (B.L. Azure photo)
ST. IGNATIUS — The community of St. Ignatius has a new architectural statement and the tribal community has a new state of the art clinic to better provide for their health care needs. The new clinic is a big part of the Tribal Health vision to provide the best possible health care for eligible beneficiaries in the best possible facilities while creating health profession employment for qualified members of the Salish, Pend d’Oreille and Kootenai people.
“It’s been a long time coming,” said Tribal Health and Human Services Director Kevin Howlett Tuesday evening about the new wing of the St. Ignatius THHS Clinic. “This is another step in the long term transformation of Tribal Health’s health-care delivery system. We are changing the health care paradigm for the Salish, Pend d’Oreille and Kootenai people so they can take control of their health care as individuals. We are starting to do health care for ourselves.”
Former Tribal Council Chair Joe Durglo, Salish-Pend d’Oreille Culture Committee Director Tony Incashola, Tribal Council Chair Ronald Trahan, St. Ignatius District Tribal Councilwoman Patty Stevens and THHS Director Kevin Howlett had the honor of cutting the ribbon to officially open the new clinic. (B.L. Azure photo)
The Tuesday evening open house was held for area health care professionals, political representatives, THHS staff, and tribal health and Indian Health Services personnel from the other tribal nations in Montana. “I want to share this time with those who work here, and the people and the different agencies we work with,” Howlett said about the pre-grand opening gathering.
Congressional staffers from Democrat Senators Jon Tester and John Walsh, and Republican Representative Steve Daines each delivered words of congratulations and encouragement.
Howlett expressed his gratitude to the Tribal Council of the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes. He gave special recognition to the four Tribal Council representatives — Joe Durglo, Jimmy Malatare, Steve Lozar and Rueben Mathias — no longer on the governing body but who were on when the project was in the talking phase and who voted for the project.
The Tribal Council not only gave the green light to proceed with the demolition, reconstruction and remodel project of the more than 50-year-old building, they are a part and parcel of another future goal: the creation of employment opportunities in the health care professions and support staff.
Tribal Health Director Kevin Howlett addresses the crowd at the grand opening of the St. Ignatius THHS Clinic. (B.L. Azure photo)
“We are creating a lot of opportunities in the future for tribal member employment,” Howlett said, adding that Tribal Health greatly appreciates its non-Indian employees. “I want to thank our non-Indian employees for their superb service they are giving our people.”
Tribal Health has a long-term commitment to the education and hiring of educationally qualified tribal members and descendants. That is evident in its Health Care Warriors Camp for sixth grade students and summer internships for college students seeking health care related degrees.
“We are doing these things for the young people who have dreams and goals of working in the health care field,” Howlett said. “We are building a pipeline for them to care for our people here at home.”
The clinic also fits in the time-immemorial spirit of the ancestors who tenaciously clung to the tribal ways of self-preservation despite the Western efforts to eliminate them physically or through assimilation. The spirit of the Salish, Pend d’Oreille and Kootenai survived.
Tribal Council Chair Ronald Trahan welcomes folks at the pre-grand opening gathering last Tuesday evening. (B.L. Azure photo)
“This is what the people who are not here with us today were hoping for, dreaming of,” said Salish-Pend d’Oreille Culture Committee Director Tony Incashola. “For more than 500 years our people have suffered and managed to survive. Tonight let’s think about what our ancestors have given us.”
What the ancestors have given is tomorrow and there is always hope that tomorrow will be better.
On Wednesday, the public got in on the festivities with the grand opening that included speeches, clinic tours and a luncheon.
Tribal Health Director of Operations, Policy and Planning Anna Whiting-Sorrell, in her opening remarks of the grand opening said the paradigm change at THHS began a dozen years ago with the vision of Tribal Health becoming the health care provider of choice for folks eligible to receive health care under provisions articulated by treaty and subsequent laws.
“This building is another step in an ongoing journey that started about 12 years ago when the Tribes (CSKT) took over management of [most] Indian Health Service programs on the Flathead Reservation,” Sorrell said. “This building would not be here without the backing of the Tribal Council and the vision of Kevin (Howlett). He knows Indian people should be the ones delivering health care to Indian people.”
Howlett said that is what he was hired for.
“My job is to try to make sure our people get good health care,” Howlett said. “I will continue to harass the Indian Health Service because it has lost its focus on providing health care for American Indians. We have a legitimate right to demand quality health care.”
The Mission Valley Honor Guard present the Colors at the clinic grand opening ceremonies last Wednesday morning. (B.L. Azure photo)
Howlett said the only two federal agencies established to provide health care for Americans are the Department of Veterans Affairs and the Indian Health Service. He said both are underfunded and fail to meet demonstrated needed provisions. The VA situation is front-page news but the IHS situation rarely makes it on the back pages.
“We are reading a lot about the perils the VA is currently going through,” Howlett said. “The same thing is happening everyday on every Indian reservation in America. That’s why we’re doing this. Health care is a business. We can generate revenue to better serve our people. Last year we had 100,000 patient visits at our (five) clinics. We intend to exceed that. We will do what we have the capacity to do.”
A big part of the capacity besides the clinics is the health care professionals that work at Tribal Health.
“We are blessed with a good staff because we hire people who want to make others lives better. We don’t have people on board who are here for a big check,” Howlett said. “I get a feeling of satisfaction knowing have and do make a difference in peoples lives.”
Hopefully the new clinic will make a difference to the people.
Bear Spirit Drum sings an honor song at the Tuesday evening pre-grand opening gathering. (B.L. Azure photo)
Howlett said the Tribal Health clinics belong to the people they serve. “Use it, take care of it, respect it, it belongs to you,” he said. “Showing up for your scheduled appointments is a sign of respect.”
Howlett alluded to the other projects on the THHS to-do list that includes, among other things, new THHS clinics in Arlee and Ronan. “We have some more projects to get done,” Howlett said.
The present Ronan THHS Clinic is in the footprint of the U.S. Highway 93 reconstruction project. Consequently, the Montana Department of Transportation is obligated to purchase another parcel of land for the Ronan THHS Clinic as well as pay for its design and construction.
A new Arlee THHS Clinic has been proposed on Powwow Road between the Arlee Community Center and the Arlee Volunteer Fire Department building. Funds from third-party reimbursements for services provided at the THHS clinics will be used for that project.
THHS physical therapist Jason Krumbeck shows folks around the clinic including the new physical therapist room. (B.L. Azure photo)
Ali Bovingdon from Democrat Gov. Steve Bullock’s staff offered kudos for the taking-the-bull-by-the-horns approach to health care on the Flathead Reservation.
“This is economic development, this is great,” Bovingdon said of the clinic. “The governor would like to extend his congratulations to the Tribal Council and Kevin for their vision and bringing it to fruition. This clinic is impressive. This is a great example on how to improve health care in Montana which is a priority of Governor Bullock.”
More work remains before the three-phase reconstruction and remodel project is done. Phase-three includes the extensive remodeling of: the former clinical east wing that will house THHS administration; the former Dental Division station in the east wing that will house the Indian Health Service’s Purchased Care Program (formerly Contract Health Services); and the Behavioral Health Division north wing.
The bronze dedication plaque will be permanently mounted at the clinic. (B.L. Azure photo)
The Community Health Division will move back to its previous relocation site at the old day care building next to the Salish-Pend d’Oreille Longhouse. Behavioral Health will be relocated to the new clinic wing.
There will be no demolition of the remaining building but there will be fairly extensive gutting of the interior to, among other things, bring it up to code. It is scheduled to be completed by the first of the year barring any unforeseen hitches in the giddy up.
Tribal Health: Building Quality Health Care.