Nearly 18 months after the clinic that served Billings’ urban Indian population closed, a new one will soon open across the street from St. Vincent Healthcare.
To unveil the Billings Urban Indian Health and Wellness Clinic, a grand opening is planned for Wednesday. It will feature speakers at the Mansfield Health Education Center at 2900 12th Ave. N., and tours of the nearby clinic at 1230 N. 30th St.
About 5,900 urban Indians live in the Billings area.
The new clinic, whose opening day is not yet certain, will initially offer primary medical and behavioral health care, said Leonard Smith, executive director of the Native American Development Corp. It will also provide transportation to patients to the Crow/Northern Cheyenne Hospital in Crow Agency for services not yet available at the clinic.
The goal is to eventually add a part-time physician to the staff that now includes a nurse practitioner, registered nurse and medical assistant, Smith said. A part-time substance abuse counselor will also be hired, as well as a consultant to design a behavioral health system.
The NADC was awarded the federal contract for the center Feb. 1 by the Billings area office of Indian Health Service. The contract runs for 12 months at a time and is in effect for five years.
The NADC replaces the Indian Health Board of Billings, a nonprofit organization that abruptly closed in May 2017. Since then, urban Indian clients eligible for health care through IHS have been encouraged to seek care from the Pryor Health Station and the Crow/Northern Cheyenne Hospital.
When discussions began about finding a new organization to run the clinic, the NADC held a series of community meetings, and participants encouraged the corporation to pursue the opportunity.
The NADC is “basically an urban organization that works with the tribes,” Smith said.
Until now, it has focused its efforts on enabling Native individuals and small businesses to succeed. That has included consulting with them and linking them with funding opportunities and connections to help them reach their goals.
The Billings Urban Indian Health and Wellness Center is the NADC’s first foray into health care.
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“It’s been a lot of hard work,” Smith said. “We started from scratch, and everybody’s been working really hard because we know it’s very important to the community.”
Working through the contractual requirements has been challenging, he said. But his staff has gotten help and support from the IHS office.
Initially, the plan was to locate the clinic in the same building where the NADC is situated, at 17 N. 26th St.
“As it turned out there’s just not enough space,” Smith said.
Another big factor was the cost of bringing water to the first-floor area where the clinic would have been located, said Smith, who is also interim executive director of the medical center. Placing the clinic in proximity to the hospital and other medical offices makes sense, he said.
To begin with, the new urban health clinic will occupy the building’s middle floor, though the NADC is in negotiations to expand to the first floor.
As the clinic continues to grow, Smith said, the goal will be to fill gaps, not to duplicate services already available. One example of a future service will be to provide preventive care, to teach clients about eating right, exercising and generally being more health conscious.
The NADC also hopes to establish cooperative agreements with the two Billings hospitals and RiverStone Health, he said.