Federal shutdown creates health center crisis for Native Americans in California

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The federal government shutdown is having an impact on a network of 10 centers across California that provide health care for three-quarters of a million Native Americans. One of those centers is in San Jose.

Indian Health Center serves 25,000 Native American patients per year at its four San Jose facilities.

"When clinics have to choose between health care for one patient population over another, that puts everybody at risk. Everyone deserves good quality care," said Sonya Tetnowski, executive director.

That's because Indian Health Center depends on $1.4 million per year in grants and contracts from the federal agency, Indian Health Service. Unlike other federal programs, such as Medicare, urban Indian Health programs are not budgeted.

Four billion dollars for Indian Health was in last month's Continuing Resolution to keep the government open, which President Trump would not sign and led to the shutdown.

There are 10 centers across California serving Native American patients. They are all facing the same problem.

Virginia Hedrick is policy director of the California Consortium for Urban Indian Health in Sacramento.

"In California we are facing an opioid crisis that is hitting Indian Country especially hard, so this means that patients would not have access to much needed culturally specific services," she said.

Diabetes is another major health issue in the Native population.

Angelina Quintana is director of clinical services at Indian Health Center.

"We have case managers that are literally communication with our patients nearly daily, making sure they're taking their medications, checking their blood sugar, making it to their specialty appointments, arranging transportation for them," she said.

Without funding, this and other centers worry they might start losing doctors, dentists, nurses and other staff.

A congressman from Oklahoma is trying to sponsor special legislation to restore funding for Indian Health Services, but no one knows what the prospects are in terms of getting it passed.

Natasha Dao