Push to increase tribal health care staffing

There is an effort to draw more workers into tribal health care.
Published: Nov. 3, 2023 at 5:42 PM PDT
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RENO, Nev. (KOLO) -Access to health care can be a special problem for Native Americans. Indian Health Services operates clinics at several colonies and reservations across the state, but many struggle to remain fully staffed. Tribes are looking to Washington for solutions.

“On the average across the nation physician (positions) are at an average of 34% vacancies. nursing staff is at 25% vacancy,” notes Angie Wilson, tribal health director for the Reno Sparks Indian Colony.

Other positions have similar needs and the impact of these vacancies at any of the rural clinics can be immediate and huge. “If you have a provider who is out or sick, you’re really in a difficult situation.”

But even at the Reno Sparks colony’s modern Tribal Health Center there are staffing shortages. They are currently hiring nurse practitioners and physical therapists.

Indian Health Services offers incentives like scholarships and loan repayment for full time employees, but that clearly hasn’t been enough. So it’s hoped a bipartisan bill co-sponsored by U.S. Sen.  Catherine Cortez Masto may sweeten the offer by extending those benefits to medical staff working part time.

“Anytime we have the ability to expand that to allow more providers opportunities wo work for us it’s a huge positive step in the right direction,” says Wilson.

The aim, Wilson says, remains the same: staffing at a stable level to meet the need of a vulnerable population with consistency.

“The longer my provider is here, the more that provider knows about me, knows about my family, the better health outcomes I will get. The difficulty is when you have turnover or have vacancies that you can’t fill, your other providers are stretched thin to meet the need. You feel like you never get ahead or be able to get your arms around what chronic disease looks like in Indian Country.”