Today, U.S. Senators Tom Udall (D-N.M.) vice chairman of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) introduced the Tribal Medical Supplies Stockpile Access Act, legislation that would guarantee that the Indian Health Service (IHS), Tribal health authorities, and urban Indian organizations have access to the Strategic National Stockpile (SNS), a federal repository of drugs and medical supplies that can be tapped if a public health emergency could exhaust local supplies.
Currently, IHS and Tribal health authorities' access to the SNS is very limited and is not guaranteed in the SNS statute. In contrast, states' and large municipalities' public health authorities have ready access to the SNS. The lawmakers' bill comes as the Department of Health & Human Services (HHS) indicated that IHS is likely to face shortages of necessary equipment as coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) continues to spread.
"Tribal communities face unique challenges in responding to public health threats -- that is why it is critical that we listen and respond to Tribal leaders and experts at IHS who say they are likely to face shortages of essential equipment and medical supplies that are needed to respond to this public health crisis," said Udall. "We must do everything we can to make sure Tribes don't bear the worst costs of this public health crisis. This legislation will ensure that IHS facilities, Tribal health departments and urban Indian organizations have access to the emergency medical supplies they need. I will continue to push Congress and the Trump administration to make sure Indian Country has access to federal coronavirus resources and that there is meaningful engagement with Native communities and Tribal leaders in our response to COVID-19."
"We must ensure that IHS, tribal nations, and Native communities are prepared to confront the coronavirus outbreak head-on, and that means giving their health services access to crucial medical supplies and equipment during public health emergencies," Warren said. "It is as important as ever to empower Indian Country to tackle a public health crisis, and that is what our bill does."
The Tribal Medical Supplies Stockpile Access Act is supported by the National Indian Health Board, the National Congress of American Indians, the National Council of Urban Indian Health, United South and Eastern Tribes Sovereignty Protection Fund, and the Friends Committee on National Legislation.
"The COVID-19 pandemic has placed immense pressures on the chronically underfunded and under-resourced Indian health system. Direct access to the Strategic National Stockpile will bring much-needed relief and critical medical and pharmaceutical supplies into IHS, Tribal and urban Indian health facilities to prepare and respond to the current COVID-19 pandemic, and future health emergencies." -National Indian Health Board
"We are encouraged by the leadership of Senator Warren and Senator Udall to increase health care access for American Indians and Alaska Natives through the Strategic National Stockpile. As the coronavirus continues to have greater impacts, Congress must do everything possible to uphold its trust responsibility to Indian Country by providing appropriate resources including N95 respirators. The stockpile is designed for those who need it most in times of emergency and Indian Country should not be left behind." -Francys Crevier, Executive Director, National Council of Urban Indian Health
"We are grateful for the leadership of Senator Warren and Senator Udall and recognizing the importance of addressing the COVID-19 pandemic in American Indian and Alaska Native communities. Seattle Indian Health Board is right in the epicenter of the outbreak in the United States, and we continue to do everything possible to limit the spread of the virus while taking every safety precaution for our patients, staff, and community. This has come at the cost of revenue, staff, and resources. But with access to the Strategic National Stockpile, we can mitigate future impacts and continue to be leaders in addressing the COVID-19 pandemic." - Esther Lucero, Chief Executive Officer, Seattle Indian Health Board
"As a Quaker organization who works to hold the United States to its trust and treaty obligations with Native nations, we thank Senators Warren and Udall for ensuring that American Indians and Alaska Natives are not forgotten during this global pandemic. The chronic underfunding of tribal and urban Indian health organizations has led Indian Country to be ill-prepared for a health crisis of this scale. Access to the Strategic National Stockpile will provide supplies and medicines critical to addressing the COVID-19 outbreak. Congress has a trust obligation to provide health facilities serving American Indians and Alaska Natives with the resources needed to protect the well-being of Native people and communities." - Kerri Colfer, Congressional Advocate on Native American Policy at the Friends Committee on National Legislation