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Ute Mountain Tribe breaks ground on $3.1 million health clinic

Additional space will allow for more medical and dental services

The Ute Mountain Ute Tribe broke ground Monday on a $3.1 million expansion of its Towaoc health clinic.

The new 5,000-square-foot Indian Health Services building will house dental and medical services and provide needed clinic space for patient care, said tribal planning director Bernadette Cuthair, during a groundbreaking ceremony Monday.

On the medical side, the new building includes three exam rooms, a treatment room and a laboratory. On the dental side, there will be four dental procedure rooms with a sterilization area, and a small dental lab.

All exam and treatment areas are designed for negative pressure, and utilize HEPA air filtration systems.

The new facility expands the tribe’s health campus, and will be located across the street from the main clinic on Rustling Willow Road.

It is being funded by IHS through the federal COVID-19 emergency response effort to support Native American tribes hit hard by the pandemic.

The new clinic “is state of the art technology. To expand our services, we need this space,” said Kyle Gropp, CEO for the Towaoc IHS clinic. “I want to thank the tribe. It has been a rough year, and all of our efforts as a community shows how strong we are. This clinic shows that when we work together we can accomplish great things.”

He said the negative pressure rooms and HEPA air filters in the new facility will improve protection for patients and staff.

The technology is especially important for the aerosolizing aspect of dental procedures, and will allow for more dental procedures to take place, Gropp said.

The tribe’s Weminuche Construction Authority is the general contractor, and reported the project completion is planned by September.

The groundbreaking ceremony was attended by the tribal council along with staff from the IHS and Weminuche Construction Authority. It began with a blessing prayer delivered by Mark Wing.

Several officials spoke about the importance of the project, the collaboration between agencies to make it happen, and the need for expanded health services in the time of the COVID pandemic.

“This upgrade will improve service to our community and will be a place of healing,” said Ute Mountain Vice Chairman Whiteskunk.

Too often, Indian Country is disproportionately impacted by health problems, including with the COVID pandemic, said Ute Mountain councilman Alston Turtle.

The expansion of our health clinic is a “big achievement, and is what’s needed to pinpoint those issues and get them under control,” he said.

The community continues to mourn tribal members who died from the disease, said councilman Lyndreth Wall, and improving health services is a way to honor them.

“We lost good friends,” he said.

The new clinic will help address a multitude of health issues facing tribal members, including long-term impacts of COVID, said Ute Mountain Chairman Manuel Heart.

The pandemic has made everyone “realize even more so, the importance of emphasizing health care,” he said.

The ultimate goal is to upgrade or replace older health facilities, and consolidate medical services under one roof, Heart said.

To improve services for diabetics, the tribe is also looking into building a dialysis center for the 30 tribal members who require the treatment.

jmimiaga@the-journal.com

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