The Montana Healthcare Foundation recently invested $600,000 to improve American Indian health across Montana.

Native Americans in Montana experience significant health problems, including a median age at death of 50 which is roughly 20 years earlier than non-Indian Montanans. There are also elevated rates of heart disease, cancer, injuries, and other illnesses.

With these statistics in mind, the Montana Healthcare Foundation is working directly with tribes and Indian health centers to develop long-term solutions.

Foundation CEO Aaron Wernham said yesterday, that a new wave of grants has been released to assist in the mitigation effort.

"Healthcare for American Indian people has been pretty underfunded for a long time," Wernham said. "That's a lot less per-capita than any other public healthcare system, even less than Medicaid and the VA. One of the things were focusing on is strengthening the administration of their healthcare programs to make sure the revenues are going to build a stronger healthcare system"

With this present round of funding, Wernham said the foundation has assisted every reservation in the state.

"We really try to tailor these projects to meed the needs in every community," he said. "Grants are up to $150,000, but a lot are smaller than that. For example we sent a smaller planning grant out to the Fort Peck reservation to help them with a business plan for a new chemical dependency treatment center, because they have a real problem with methamphetamine in that community."

MHCF was formed as the result of the sale of Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Montana to a private corporation. In accordance with State law, the assets were transferred to a charitable trust to be managed for public benefit.