By Krystal Spring/Havre Daily Newsemail@example.com
Health care at Rocky Boy's Indian Reservation will soon take on a new face, as construction on a new multimillion-dollar clinic and wellness center gets under way.
The new facilities, which will be housed in two buildings east of the existing Rocky Boy Clinic, will hopefully cut down on the time patients spend awaiting treatment, said Tim Rosette, division chief for the environmental health office of the Rocky Boy Health Board.
"We think we'll be able to provide a better, more consistent service here locally," he said. "The patients will get in and out of the clinic quicker than they can now."
Rosette said the tribe's road crew has been working since January to prepare the site for construction of the $10 million project. The crews have built roads, relocated water lines and removed an old office building in the way of a road, he said.
Tribal leaders and health board members met Thursday with Swank Enterprises of Valier, the construction company that won the bid for the new clinic, to discuss the project's construction.
"Right now we're mobilizing the site," Scott Wright, project manager for Swank, said today. "We'll start the construction work on the wellness center next week. We're hoping to finish it in 12 months, but with any luck we'll be done in 10."
The 23,000-square-foot wellness center, which will house physical fitness equipment including a pool, weights, cardiovascular machines, a gymnasium, and locker rooms, will offer free membership for tribal members.
"A healthier community means less money paid in health care. It's a preventative measure," Rosette said.
"I think we'll see an increase in physical activity for people and hopefully decreases in diseases," he added.
Rosette said he hopes the wellness facilities will attract the youth, helping them take a proactive step early on to protect their overall health and well-being.
"The center will give our young people a place to work out and gather together safely, creating better physical fitness," he said.
Swank is bringing in a number of supervisors for the project, but Wright said the majority of the work will be done by local workers.
"It's really an exciting project to undertake," he said. "The people in Rocky Boy are really anxious for us to start working."
The 52,000-square-foot, two-level clinic is projected to be finished in December of 2006 and will be significantly larger than the existing clinic - more than three times as big, according to Rosette.
"The increased capacity will mean better, faster service," he said.
While the new clinic will initially offer the same services as the existing one, Rosette said it may eventually offer additional services like mammograms.
The Rocky Boy Clinic is an ambulatory program, in which people walk in for treatment but overnight inpatient care and specialty services like cancer treatment are contracted out to larger facilities in Havre and Great Falls.
"If it's an emergency, the only thing we can do is stabilize and ship" a patient by ambulance to a hospital, Rosette said.
That may change with the construction of the new clinic.
"We'd like to eventually become a critical-access hospital," Rosette said. If that happens, people could be treated at the clinic for up to 48 hours.
Rosette said that when the construction is completed, the new facility will house the offices that support the clinic - the Chemical Dependency Center, financial office and environmental health office - under one roof. They are now scattered around the reservation.
"It's for better patient care - I mean they'll have all the services provided at one spot," said Rosette, who added that the arrangement will enable better consultations between doctors and offices like the Chemical Dependency Center.
The Chippewa Cree Tribe is providing 20 percent of the cost of the project - $2 million, Rosette said.
A combination of grant funding is paying for an additional $3.3 million:
$2 million in grant money from the Indian Health Service
$900,000 in Indian Community Development Block Grant funding from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development
$403,000 in grant money for infrastructure from the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Rural Utilities Service
$100,000 in grant money for construction from USDA
The remaining cost is being paid for with a loan guaranteed by USDA, Rosette said. The tribe is seeking additional grants to help reduce the loan amounts as much as possible, he said.
All grants were secured by the environmental health staff, except the Indian Community Development Block Grant, which was applied for by RJS and Associates, Rosette said.