Maliseet Indians move forward with health center

Posted July 22, 2009, at 12:40 a.m.
Last modified Jan. 30, 2011, at 11:45 a.m.

HOULTON, Maine — Members of the Houlton Band of Maliseet Indians announced Tuesday afternoon that the tribe is poised to establish a $2 million health center that will entitle the band to build upon health and wellness services already offered to its members.

Maliseet Chief Brenda Commander joined with other tribal leaders to announce that the band soon will solicit bids for construction of the new 7,612-square-foot facility.

“We are very excited about this,” the chief said. “We have been working so hard on this, and the establishment of the health center represents a lot of hard work by many people. This has been a team effort.”

The tribe has tapped into federal grants and American Recovery and Reinvestment Act money to finance the project. The funding package includes $250,000 from the U.S. Department of Agriculture and approximately $1.4 million in stimulus money.

The tribe will continue to pursue grants to expand programs and services that will be offered at the center.

Through its current health center and health department, the tribe provides a wide array of services to its members. A doctor and a nurse practitioner conduct medical appointments, and the Maliseet Wellness Center and nature trails are resources for members to use to exercise and stay in shape. The health department also provides a diabetes program and a substance abuse counselor and operates a domestic violence response program.

The problem, officials said Tuesday, is that tribal members have to go to numerous sites to receive those services. The new health center will be located across from the Maliseets’ gym and recreation center and will put all of the HBMI health services under one roof.

“The new facility will be one-stop shopping,” Carol Francis, a registered nurse and the tribe’s health director, said Tuesday. “Comprehensive health care will be offered under one roof. We will have nutritional services and an exercise room, and we are looking to offer dental services and establish a pharmacy right on-site.”

Commander and Rosa McNally, the tribe’s grant writer, said tribal officials have been relentlessly pursuing grants and other funding to make the health center possible. McNally said she is awaiting word on another sizable grant application.

“Grant and stimulus money is very competitive,” McNally said. “We have written grants that have been denied and we have learned from our mistakes. Everyone has worked very hard to make this possible.”

The chief said the tribe would be purchasing American-made construction materials and hopes to stick to its past practice of buying and employing locally.

“This is going to bring jobs into the community,” said Commander. “It will help with job creation; it will help the economy in Houlton, in the state and in the nation.”

Both Commander and Francis said tribal members are “dying young” from heart disease and other serious health problems and are suffering from complications of diabetes and obesity.

“We have to provide the health services we offer and more,” said Francis. “We also will continue to educate and provide wellness opportunities.”

Francis added that she would like to see the health center equipped with a light room to help those suffering from seasonal affective disorder and set aside areas for meditation and education. She also would like to see optometry services offered.

“This has been our dream,” she said Tuesday. “Soon it will be reality.”

jlbdn@ainop.com

538-6567

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