The Albuquerque Tribune-Wilson fights for health clinic funds
By Michael Gisick
For the second straight year, U.S. Rep. Heather Wilson is fighting budget cuts proposed by the White House that could shutter two Albuquerque health clinics for American Indians.
The clinics are funded through the $33 million federal Urban Indian Health Program, which provides services to American Indians living away from reservations.
At least 6,000 people use the two Albuquerque facilities - a dental clinic on the campus of Southwest Indian Polytechnic Institute and the First Nations Community HealthSource clinic on Zuni Road Southeast.
In a statement, Wilson, an Albuquerque Republican, said she disagreed with the Bush administration's view that people using those facilities could find care at other community health clinics. She said those clinics are already stretched thin and aren't attuned to the particular health care needs of American Indians.
"Access to health care for the Indian population in Albuquerque is slowly deteriorating," she said. "These programs provide basic health care to people away from the reservation and deserve support."
The president has proposed eliminating the Urban Indian Health Program altogether for the past two years. Last year, Wilson and Rep. Jim McDermott, a Washington Democrat, led a successful push to restore the funding.
Based on that, Wilson is hopeful the funding will be restored this year, a spokesman said.
The two Albuquerque clinics receive about $1.5 million in federal money - 63 percent of the funding for the dental clinic and 42 percent of the funding for the First Nations clinic.
The loss of that money would have a dramatic effect on both, officials said.
It is used to hire four of the five dentists at the Albuquerque Indian Health Services Dental Clinic, said the clinic's CEO, Maureen Cordova. The fifth is an orthodontist, she said.
"I don't know if we'd be able to stay open" without the federal aid, she said.
The clinic will provide an estimated 18,000 patient visits this fiscal year. It offers general dental care and orthodontics for people 25 and under and emergency dental care for all age groups.
Like the First Nations clinic, services are free to members of any American Indian tribe. Both were founded in 1972.
The First Nations clinic provides comprehensive health care services, including primary care, dental, behavioral health, traditional healing and outreach programs for the homeless and at-risk youth, executive director Linda Stone said.
The proposed budget cuts would eliminate funding for primary care and dental care, she said.
People who use the clinic would likely turn to already hard-pressed emergency rooms if the funding is lost, Stone said.
"I think you'd see many people only seeking care when they have a health emergency," she said.
Samantha Pourier, a records clerk at the dental clinic, said she'd likely have to travel to the Navajo reservation near Gallup to get dental care for her three sons if the Albuquerque clinic closes. But she noted that her oldest son, 12, just got braces.
"They don't have an orthodontist (at the Navajo facility,)" she said. "I don't know what I'd do with him."