Tribal Health

Last week Assembly Bill 1965 (AB 1965), introduced by Assemblywoman Blanca Rubio (D – Baldwin Park), passed the Assembly Health Committee, where I serve as Vice Chair. Once implemented, AB 1965 will take aim at the public healthcare crisis impacting tribal communities throughout California.

Health disparities impacting American Indian and Alaska Native (AIAN) communities include opioid overdose death rates, which are higher among the AIAN population than any other group. Diabetes prevalence and mortality are two times higher than the non-Hispanic white population, and AIAN women have higher rates of syphilis. AIAN babies are up to 8 times more likely to have newborn syphilis than babies born to white mothers, and AIAN mothers are two times more likely to die of pregnancy-related causes. Sudden Infant Death rates are highest among AIANs, the AIAN population has disproportionate rates of Hepatitis C, and is consistently the most at-risk minority group for suicides.

The U.S. Census Bureau estimates that there are 631,000 American Indians and Alaska Natives living in California who claim no other race, and 1.4 million AIAN persons of mixed race. Since San Diego County’s 18 tribal governments are all located within the 75th Assembly District, the health and well-being of these communities is something I take very seriously.

Congress established the California Tribal Epidemiology Center (CTEC) in 2005, an organization dedicated to disease surveillance in AIAN communities. However, there has been a lack of collaboration between CTEC and the California Department of Public Health (CDPH), which AB 1965 will help resolve. AB 1965 establishes the Office of Tribal Affairs (OTA) within CDPH to set up a dedicated tribal liaison that will be responsible for tackling these healthcare challenges and disparities head-on. It is my hope that AB 1965 will greatly improve the health and well-being of the AIAN community in California, including tribal communities/individuals right here in San Diego County.