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Reps. Gallego, Bacon and Senators Padilla, Lankford Introduce Bill to Improve Urban Indian Health Infrastructure

May 25, 2021
Press Release

WASHINGTON, DC – Today, Rep. Ruben Gallego (D-AZ), Rep. Don Bacon (R-NE), Senator Alex Padilla (D-CA) and Senator James Lankford (R-OK) introduced the Urban Indian Health Providers Facilities Improvement Act to pave the way for increased investment in the renovation and construction of urban Indian health facilities.

The Indian Health System, commonly referred to as the ITU system, is made up of the Indian Health Service (IHS), Tribal health programs, and urban Indian organizations (UIOs). UIOs provide culturally competent care for the over 70 percent of American Indians and Alaska Natives who live in urban centers, many in low-income, medically underserved areas.

86% of UIOs report needing to make facilities and infrastructure upgrades, while 74% of UIOs report unmet need for new construction to better serve patients. These needs include but are not limited to the construction of urgent care facilities and infectious disease areas, capacity expansion projects, ventilation system improvements, and upgrades to telehealth and electronic health records systems. However, under an existing obsolete provision of law, UIOs are prevented from using the money allocated to them by Congress on these critical projects. The Urban Indian Health Providers Facilities Improvement Act amends the law to allow UIOs to spend appropriated funding on construction and renovation projects to improve the safety and quality of care provided to urban Indian patients.

“Despite having extremely limited resources, Urban Indian organizations have been on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic, and for long before that have provided comprehensive, culturally competent care to urban Indians and other medically underserved patients across the country,” said Rep. Gallego. “Congress must immediately end this erroneous restriction on UIOs’ ability to spend the money Congress gave them on the projects that will best serve their patients. We must pass this bill without delay.”

“Like many community healthcare centers, Urban Indian Organizations (UIOs) have been hit financially because of COVID and have struggled to renovate their facilities and expand capacity requirements,” said Rep. Bacon. “Under current law, UIOs cannot use federal funds to pay for these improvements and keep their doors open. Our bill lifts that restriction and grants access to these funds. These health centers care for so many members in our Nebraska community. It’s only right we close this loop hole so they can provide quality care to their patients.”

“Urban Indian Organizations are a lifeline to Native Americans living in urban areas across California,” said Senator Padilla. “Yet, UIOs are prohibited from using Indian Health Service funding for facilities, maintenance, equipment, and other necessary construction upgrades. During the pandemic, many UIOs couldn’t get approval for ventilation upgrades, heaters, generators, and weatherization equipment. Removing this unjust burden on UIOs is a commonsense fix, and would allow them to improve the quality of the culturally competent care that they provide.”

“Oklahoma has the second-largest Urban Indian patient population and is proudly served in both Tulsa and Oklahoma City clinics. We should continue to improve health care access for our Urban Indian population and broaden the flexibility for Urban Indian Organizations’ use of facilities renovation dollars, in addition to those for accreditation, to meet patient needs,” said Senator Lankford. “We should finalize these changes to ensure we provide more, quality options for Tribal health care. I look forward to the support from the leadership of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs on this important legislation.”

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