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Clinic for Native Americans Opens In Billings

Kayla Desroches / YPR

Native Americans in the Billings-area now can use a clinic tailored to their needs. The Billings Urban Indian Health and Wellness Clinic fills the void after the abrubt closure of a clinic 18 months ago by the Indian Health Board of Billings.

People crowded in the ramp leading up to the door of the new building near the St. Vincent Health campus to watch the ribbon cutting. In the audience were some of the clinic’s future employees. That included nurse practitioner Nicole Turnsplenty.  

Her hope, and the hope of some of the other people responsible for forming and staffing the clinic, is that the center will give urban Indians top-notch medical care combined with empathy and understanding.

“I think the importance of having a native clinic is that cultural component,” said Turnsplenty. “To feel comfortable. Again, we represent 10 percent of the population, but at the same time, those services, you don’t see that equal connect.”

Good treatment, she said, is about meeting people “where they are” and addressing their individual challenges in treating their chronic conditions. Especially those found in high rates among Native Americans, such as diabetes and hypertension.

Turnsplenty also pointed to access to care as a priority.

That’s something that Leonard Smith, the clinic’s interim executive director, said can be a struggle in the city.  

“A lot of the urban Indians in Billings don’t have the kind of health care that they need,” he said. “They either don’t have insurance, or they’re not signed up for Medicare, or they don’t have transportation back to their reservations.”

Smith said, for now, the clinic will offer primary services and expand as the months go on. They’re organized under the Native American Development Corporation, which Smith directs.

In the future, according to Smith, the clinic could partner with other groups in the community and offer service to other populations besides Native Americans.

Kayla writes about energy policy, the oil and gas industry and new electricity developments.