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  Oil Boom Impacting Health Center Housing      

May 14, 2012
By Eloise Ogden - Regional Editor, Minot Daily News

NEW TOWN - With the oil boom in the area, the lack of housing is a critical issue, including for staff at the new tribal health center in New Town.

Marion Trucking & Construction, of Dunseith, is completing the infrastructure for new homes for staff for the Three Affiliated Tribes' Elbowoods Memorial Health Center. However, funding is needed to construct the homes for the site.

Weather permitting, the construction company will finish the infrastructure in a few days, said Jim Foote, project manager of the Three Affiliated Tribes' Elbowoods Memorial Health Center. The Dunseith firm also was the prime contractor for the health center.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers built the 43,000-square-foot health center and at the end of fiscal year 2012, turned it over to the Indian Health Service to operate and maintain, said Tex Hall, chairman of the Three Affiliated Tribes. He said IHS also received funding to staff the facility.

Located north of Fort Berthold Community College in New Town, the health center opened to patients this past October. It replaced the Minne-Tohe Health Center, the main medical facility for tribal members

The infrastructure work includes water and sewer at a site west of the health center and north of the Northern Lights Events Center in New Town.

The tribe has paid for the infrastructure, including curb, gutter and pavement and purchase of 40 acres of land, Foote said. He said the current site is for 50 homes.

Funding for the new homes for health center staff is being sought from the federal government and other sources, Foote said.

Hall testified recently before the House Committee on Appropriations, Interior Environment and Related Agencies Subcommittee expressing the dire need for the funding for staff housing for the health center.

He said the oil boom is a positive impact on the area but with it also comes some serious problems, including the lack of housing. He said every available housing unit within 100 miles of the new health center has been contracted or leased, and even when housing becomes available, "it is so expensive that no mid-level IHS-funded employee can possibly afford it."

Hall said Indian Health Service's response to the housing problem is since IHS did not construct the health center, it feels no obligation to request funding to house the new IHS-funded health center staff.

"The bottom line is that we need a minimum of $12 million to construct homes for the 60-plus IHS-funded employees that this committee has appropriated dollars to hire. The MHA (Mandan Hidatsa and Arikara) Nation has already done its part by spending in excess of $1.6 million in tribal funds to prepare the site for these new homes and bringing in the utilities, but we simply cannot afford to construct those units," Hall said.

Foote said tribal council members and others have been very supportive of the health center project, and want "to improve health care and housing for the staff."

Temporary trailers and four modular homes are in place west of the health center, Foote said. He said five of the trailers are for police officers, and five trailers and four modular homes for health center staff. One of the modular units and some of the trailers already are occupied, Foote said.

Dr. Zane Rising Sun also recently joined the staff as the health center's chief medical officer, he said.

Hall said if the funding is not forthcoming, they will not be able to recruit all of the personnel for the health center that the House subcommittee had agreed was needed. He said they will have to increase the salaries of the few clinical staff they can recruit so they can pay the high costs of housing and commuting to and from the reservation.

"This is not an effective use of federal dollars, and it will undercut our ability to deliver effective health care to our people at a reasonable cost to the taxpayer," Hall said. He asked the subcommittee to provide the fiscal year 2013 staff quarters funding.

"The federal government has already spent in excess of $20 million to develop this facility and it makes no sense not to finish the job," Hall told the subcommittee.

Three Affiliated Tribes
404 Frontage Road
New Town, ND 58763