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Fort Belknap Diabetes Program canceled


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Tim Leeds Havre Daily News [email protected]

A long-running program to fight diabetes on the Fort Belknap Indian Reservation has been terminated at least for the moment leaving its staff members wondering who will help reservation residents with their diabetes needs and what jobs they will be working in the future. “We're cleaning our offices and removing our personal items,” Bonita Plain Feather, program manager of the Fort Belknap Diabetes Prevention Program, said during an interview by telephone Thursday. Plain Feather said the staff members of the program were notified in a letter that the program was being terminated, and today would be their last day. The Havre Daily News was told this morning that a representative of the Tribe's health department would call with comments on the program's closure. The call had not been received by deadline. Plain Feather said the program, which is grant-funded, ran out of money at the end of the federal fiscal year, Sept. 30. The applications for the next year's funding are not due until Oct. 24, she said. “I knew all along (the money would run out) but the tribal government could carry us through until the next set of money came through. But they won't carry us through,” Plain Feather said. The loss of the program will be a problem for many, she added. In addition to screening and providing education, the program's staff members provide help for diabetics, including outreach, clinics and visits to homes, sometimes taking medication to diabetics. “Who's going to take them thei r medicat ion?” Plai n Feather asked. Lana Stuker, who provides outreach for the program, said the impact of the cancellation will not be just at Fort Belknap. The program runs diabetes clinics from Havre to Malta, she said. “It affects more than just here,” Stuker said. It will impact the program's workers as well, she added. “The six people they are laying off, all of us have families,” Stuker said. Bonnie Bentley, physical fitness coordinator for the program said that she has been trying to help her three children, all of whom are attending college. “This puts a little damper on how much mom can help,” she said. Plain Feather said that if the grant is approved she spent long hours in the last three weeks writing the application after the request for the grant was released by the federal Indian Health Service on Sept. 24, then turned that over to the Tribe's planning department the program will have to be restarted. Stuker said that no one knows if the people working in the program now will be rehired if it starts again in November or December. Apparently, the positions would be advertised, and the staff members would have to apply, she said. Mercedes Snell, who provides outreach for the program, said starting over with new workers would require replacing an immense amount of training and experience. “If they replace us, the cost of training people to replace us is going to be very high,” she said. Snell agreed. “There goes a wealth of knowledge,” she said. The disruption of the program also could set back years of work gaining trust and exposure, in more than diabetes prevention, the staff members said. In addition to working to develop a relationship with the schools on the reservation along with screenings to find diabetics and pre-diabetics, both for research and to work on prevention and treatment of the disease the program has built trust with the residents of the reservation and also has worked on programs to prevent violence and suicides. Plain Feather said one of the goals of the program has been to work with the children and youths on the reservation to change their lifestyles, as well as to improve their health. The program staff members have been trying to help train future leaders, she said, “to teach them to be compassionate to all.” Stuker said, however, there will be an impact on reducing the high rate of diabetes on the reservation as well. The numbers show the program has had a positive impact, she said. “It just makes you wonder how important our health is to our tribal government,” she said.


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