Funding proposed for tribal health center

The Appropriations Committee heard testimony Feb. 25 on a bill seeking funding for one of the state’s federally qualified health centers.

Sen. Tom Brewer
Sen. Tom Brewer

LB185, sponsored by Gordon Sen. Tom Brewer, would appropriate $700,000 in general funds in fiscal year 2021-22 and FY2022-23 to the Department of Health and Human Services to provide funding to the Fred LeRoy Health and Wellness Center in Omaha.

Brewer said the tribally owned, federally qualified health center was established in 1997 by the Ponca Tribe of Nebraska and provides medical, dental, behavioral and public health services to individuals who are eligible for Indian health services.

The clinic’s federal funding is limited, he said, and the bill would provide state funding on the same level as Nebraska’s seven other federally qualified health centers.

Larry Wright Jr., chairman of the Ponca Tribe of Nebraska, testified in support of the bill. He said the Fred LeRoy Health and Wellness Center serves more than 6,000 tribal citizens and other qualified individuals from over 160 different tribal nations.

Wright said the clinic currently is planning an expansion to serve more people, which he said would create more than 300 health care jobs.

“The parity that this bill will afford the Ponca Tribe to carry out our mission to serve our tribal citizens, other American Indians and our staff — who are all Nebraskans — is paramount to providing long-term preventive health care and minimizing the cost of health care that comes from lack of access and neglect,” he said.

Judi gaiashkibos, executive director of the Nebraska Commission on Indian Affairs, also spoke in support. It’s important for American Indians to receive culturally competent care, she said, and to attempt to address the negative health outcomes that have resulted from historic trauma and lack of access to affordable care.

“Native Americans die at a much higher rate than any other people in America,” gaiashkibos said.

No one testified in opposition to LB185 and the committee took no immediate action on the bill.

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