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Feds Give Half-Billion in Stimulus Cash to Tribes

Indian tribes will get money to replace aging ambulances, clinics and medical equipment as part of $500 million in economic stimulus aid.

The announcement was made Friday by Yvette Roubideaux, newly installed director of the Indian Health Service. A doctor and former clinical director serving tribes in Arizona, Roubideaux grew up in South Dakota as a member of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe.

Here's how the $500 million would break down:

— $227 million to help build hospitals in South Dakota and Alaska.

— $100 million to maintain and renovate 302 medical facilities nationwide.

— $85 million for health information technology.

— $68 million for 169 sanitation projects, such as clean-water facilities, in 24 states serving 16,000 homes.

— $20 million for medical equipment, such as ambulances and CT scanners.

"We know we have tremendous unmet needs in Indian Country and these funds won't solve all of our problems, but they will move us in the right direction," Roubideaux said.

The money — part of a $787 billion economic stimulus package Congress passed in February — was released only a week after President Barack Obama unveiled a $454 million increase in Indian Health Service programs as part of his 2010 budget proposal.

The IHS, part of the Department of Health and Human Services, provides health services to about 1.5 million American Indians and Alaska Natives who belong to more than 557 federally recognized tribes in 35 states.

Tribes frequently cite the lack of adequate health care as a major problem on reservations.

According to the Government Accountability Office, Indians living in IHS areas have lower life expectancies than the U.S. population as a whole and have substantially higher rates for diseases such as diabetes. Fatal accidents, suicide, and homicide are also more common among them.

A GAO report issued in 2005 found that while tribal health facilities offered basic care, patients often had to wait several months for an appointment and had to drive as far as 90 miles to access services. In addition, there were gaps for certain specialty services to diagnose and treat non-urgent conditions, such as arthritis, chronic pain and some dental procedures.

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