Murkowski Questions IHS Officials on Health Initiatives for Alaska Natives

Today U.S. Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) chaired an Interior Appropriations Subcommittee hearing on the FY17 budget for the Indian Health Service (IHS). Senator Murkowski took this opportunity to question IHS officials on critical health issues facing Alaska Natives, including how the agency plans to address the current maintenance backlog for rural health care facilities and initiatives in the budget to combat substance abuse, suicide, and domestic violence.


(Click image to watch video of Senator Murkowski convene Interior Appropriations hearing.)

Senator Murkowski first asked for an update on funding for Village Built Clinics, a program unique to Alaska that supports roughly 150 health care clinics in villages and rural areas:

“Last year we were able to include $2 million to address the issue of Village Built Clinics, many of which are the only local option for health care, many have serious maintenance needs. The frustration is that basically your predecessor said the tribes are responsible for paying these costs from other funds they get from IHS—that just was not right. This issue I hear about more from local folks than just about anything else when I’m out in the villages. Can you tell me how the agency plans to allocate these funds and when they will be distributed?

Mary Smith, Principal Deputy Director of IHS, responded that she recognizes Senator Murkowski’s long-time commitment to this issue, that IHS included a request in the FY17 budget for $9 million to fund Village Built Clinics, and that they are going to begin a tribal consultation program to ensure the funds are distributed where they are needed.

Click here to view video of Senator Murkowski discussing Village Built Clinics with IHS officials.

Murkowski then turned her focus to initiatives contained in the FY17 budget request to address substance abuse, suicide, and domestic violence, and acknowledged the courageous efforts of young people in both Tanana and Kwethluk, Alaska who have stood up against these issues in their communities. She recommended an integrated approach to address these issues, saying:

“Making sure our Native peoples have hope, that they do not view suicide as the answer or turn to substance abuse, is just so key. You mentioned this integrated approach to addressing primary health care, mental health, and substance abuse disorders and I know that you have made the commitment to some of our tribes to come up to Alaska sometime this summer. I do hope you will take full advantage of visiting with the folks at Southcentral Foundation to really understand what they have done with the Nuka model which is truly this integrated, whole-person, approach to providing health care.”

Smith agreed with Senator Murkowski that health care needs to be integrated in all facets of life—family, tribe, and community—and committed to visiting Alaska in the near future.

Click here to view video of Senator Murkowski discuss an integrated approach to suicide prevention.