Senators discussed a bill on Wednesday that would fund healthcare-related education for Native American students who agree to work at an Oregon tribal service site following graduation.
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Members of the Senate Committee on Health Care discussed Senate Bill 469 during a public hearing. The bill would create the Indian Health Scholarship Program, which would be administered by Oregon Health & Science University. It would fund scholarships for members of federally-recognized Indian tribes to cover the full cost of tuition for professional training programs related to healthcare.
Sen. Bill Hansell (R-Athena), the chief sponsor of SB 469, said the bill would pay for tuition and related fees in exchange for a student’s commitment to work at a tribal service site following graduation for a duration of the same number of years they received scholarship funds.
“If it was a four-year scholarship, they would agree to work for four years,” Hansell said. “Most, if not all the treaty tribes of Oregon, have medical facilities. And in the case of the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation, a very impressive medical facility known as the Yellowhawk Clinic. This bill will help Native American students get their training, their education, and move back to work on their reservation, or any reservation in Oregon.”
Provisions in SB 469 would apply at private or public institutions of higher education. It would require prospective practitioners who receive scholarship funds to agree to practice on a federally-recognized Oregon Indian reservation, or a site that serves a patient population where at least 50% of its members are part of a federally-recognized tribe. It would become effective on July 1st.
“We’re dealing with a group of sovereign nations, and I thought a government to government program would be a good policy,” Hansell said. “It would be an encouragement to our Native American young people to come back and work specifically in their home communities, of which they are enrolled members.”
The bill provides terms of repayment for any prospective providers who don’t fulfill the terms of the scholarship.
Hansell said similar versions of SB 469, including SB 293 in 2019, passed Senate policy committees in previous sessions only to die in the Ways and Means Committee. They received no opposition, however, he said.
Sen. Chris Gorseck (D-Troutdale) voiced his support for the Indian Health Scholarship Program.
“We know that the need is especially acute in places like Native American reservations, so I’m really glad that you brought the bill forward,” Gorseck said.
Michael Mason, a Coquille Indian Tribe representative, testified in support of SB 469. He said the program could help address dental vacancies at tribal healthcare facilities.
“I’ve been in a lot of tribal health clinics,” Mason said. “One of the things that you really see missing in those is dental. That’s because Indian service does not prioritize dental; they don’t see it as life-saving in the way it actually is. They’re starting to wake up to that, but they haven’t caught up yet.”
Mason noted that the Coquille Tribe has two new healthcare facilities—one in Coos Bay and another in Eugene—where there could be a promising outlook on dental services.
“They’re also working on one in Medford that is expected to open this year,” Mason said. “You have six dental chairs in the Coos Bay clinic. It’s so impressive to see that. It helped spur more interest among tribal members to actually pursue healthcare careers.”