Officials at a health care clinic on the Wind River Reservation warned of the effects on native health of a protracted government shutdown, as President Donald Trump’s standoff over border wall funding dragged into its fourth week.
“The effects of the federal government shutdown have ... a very detrimental impact on health care services,” said Richard Brannan, the CEO of Wind River Family and Community Health Care.
The Northern Arapaho took over the clinic three years ago, Brannan said, but it still receives funding from the federal Indian Health Service, which has largely been shuttered since the government was partially shut down in mid-December. Providers and employees at the clinic are still getting paid, Brannan and clinic spokeswoman Lisa Yawakia said, because of a rainy day fund the clinic had established.
But that will not last much longer.
“If you have no answer for ‘(when) is the funding going to come in, when can I plan for these services, when should I hire somebody,’ medication, we have to pay for that, that’s very expensive ... The biggest problem I see with the shutdown is not knowing what to plan for,” Brannan said. “It totally brings your operation to almost a standstill.”
It’s unclear if providers at other IHS clinics on the reservation are being paid. An email to the agency’s Billings, Montana, office, which oversees the Wind River Reservation, was not immediately returned Friday. A spokeswoman with the federal office in Maryland said she would look into the inquiry but warned that she was short-staffed because of the shutdown.
“All direct service IHS facilities that provide direct health care will continue to operate. However, many administrative activities are impacted due to the lapse in funding for the IHS,” the director of public affairs for IHS, Jennifer Buschick, wrote in an email. “Similar to Indian Health Service direct services, tribal health programs and urban Indian organizations will receive funding once an appropriation is available.”
Native American tribes like Wyoming’s Eastern Shoshone and Northern Arapaho have treaty guarantees to federal health services, in exchange for the land seized by the U.S. government.
Brannan said his clinic is “severely underfunded” even when the government isn’t shut down. Its rainy day fund should last through next month.
Through a spokeswoman, the Eastern Shoshone Tribe’s business council declined to comment on the shutdown’s effects. In a press release sent Friday, the council warned its members that their monthly per capita payments from the federal government may not be processed and distributed in February because of the shutdown.
Brannan said the shutdown has not affected the quality of care his clinic provides. But that could change.
“It hasn’t impacted as of yet,” he said, “but it would eventually if the shutdown continues for an extended period of time.”