The Montana Healthcare Foundation engaged with tribal leaders and state and federal health officials to help develop a framework for addressing the health disparities that affect the American Indian people in Montana. In October 2015, MHCF facilitated a government-to-government consultation between the Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services (DPHHS) and the tribes. The report from that consultation summarizes the insights and solutions offered by tribal leaders, tribal health directors, and urban Indian health center leadership. This document provides a critically important road map for addressing health disparities in Indian Country.
When the Montana DPHHS issued its 2013 “State of the State’s Health” report, tribal leaders were deeply concerned by the health disparities affecting American Indian people. The report found that American Indians die at a median age of 50 years (more than 20 years earlier than non-Indian Montanans). Death rates for specific illnesses, including heart disease, cancer, respiratory illnesses, injuries, and suicide, were all found to be substantially higher as well.
In response to this report, tribal leaders and the health directors of the seven tribal health departments in Montana approached former Governor Bullock to advocate for a strong, statewide response to the problem of health disparities. After several meetings with tribal leaders, Governor Bullock issued Executive Order No. 06-2015 on American Indian health, establishing an Office of American Indian Health and a framework for the state’s response. MHCF contributed to this effort by helping to convene discussions among tribal health directors and conveying priorities and suggestions for a framework to the state’s health leadership.