Rep. Ruiz Highlights Need for Medical Professionals in Indian Country During Energy and Commerce Committee Hearing

July 9, 2020
Press Release

Washington, DC – Congressman Raul Ruiz, M.D. questioned former Indian Health Service (IHS) Director Dr. Charles Grim D.D.S., M.H.S.A., of the Chickasaw Nation about how to address the severe shortage of health care providers at IHS facilities across the nation. The exchange came during an Energy and Commerce Committee hearing this week titled, “Addressing the Urgent Needs of Our Tribal Communities.”

Without adequate doctors, nurses, and specialists, Native Americans are unable to access the care they deserve and that the United States government has a trust responsibility to provide,” said Dr. Ruiz. “This means that many of the underlying social determinants of health are exacerbated by the lack of access to preventative care.”

In response to a question from Dr. Ruiz, Dr. Grim agreed that investments to inspire and mentor more native youth to eventually become doctors would be an important step in solving the long-term issue of provider vacancies in Indian Country. In 2017, only 30 out of the 20,000 medical school graduates in the United States were Native American, a rate of .15%.

Last fall, Dr. Ruiz introduced H.R. 4534, the Native Health and Wellness Act, which would create a grant program to increase the number of native youth pursuing medical professions.

In addition to examining the health care needs of Native Americans, the hearing examined issues relating to broadband access, energy development, and environmental protection.

Dr. Ruiz introduced H.R. 4449, the Tribal Internet Expansion Act, which would add Indian Country to the list of priority areas under the FCC’s Universal Service Fund, the government’s primary program to expand broadband access. This bill passed the House of Representatives as part of H.R. 2, the Moving Forward Act, and is awaiting action by the Senate.

Dr. Ruiz introduced H.R. 3923, the Environmental Justice Act of 2019, which would mitigate environmental injustices against indigenous communities.

Full video of Dr. Ruiz’s remarks and the rest of the hearing can be seen here: Energy and Commerce Website.

Background

According to the Government Accountability Office (GAO), in 2017 four out of the eight IHS regions with significant IHS facilities had a nurse vacancy rate above 22%. In addition, three of those eight regions had physician vacancy rates above 30%.

Dr. Ruiz has been advocating for Congress to hold additional hearings and markups of legislation to address the needs of Indian Country.

  • In 2017, Rep. Ruiz wrote to then Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Greg Walden (R-OR) requesting that the Energy and Commerce Committee hold a hearing on the Indian Health Service.
  • In February 2020, Dr. Ruiz hosted a roundtable listening session in conjunction with the National Congress of American Indians with tribal leaders from more than 25 tribes from around the country to discuss the legislative priorities for tribal nations.
  • In March 2020, Dr. Ruiz led more than 40 Members of the House of Representative in calling for an increase in appropriations to the Indian Health Service, citing the longstanding underfunding of the agency and the trust responsibility of the United States government to provide health care forNative Americans.
  • During the 115th Congress, Dr. Ruiz was a co-chair of the “Indian Health Service Task Force” with Rep. Markwayne Mullin (R-OK).

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