Blackfeet Nation in Montana declares state of emergency amid Arizona Medicaid scheme

Blackfeet Nation is following the lead of the Navajo Nation, working to protect its people from a Medicaid scheme that is widespread in Arizona.

Authorities say the scheme targets vulnerable Native Americans looking to get sober at treatment centers.

A declaration of a state of emergency was issued on July 19 to bring awareness to "individuals displaced by unaccredited behavioral health facilities."

The document declaring the emergency was obtained by FOX 10 on Aug. 1.

The Navajo Nation emergency declaration was issued in June by the Commission on Emergency Management and signed by Navajo Nation President Buu Nygren, according to documents posted on the Facebook page of the tribe’s Operation Rainbow Bridge, which was created to deal with the scam’s effects on its enrolled members.

The Blackfeet Nation Tribal Council voted 6-0 to adopt the resolution to declare a state of emergency.

Coverage of this issue

Navajo Nation Attorney General Ethel Branch said in June that the tribe’s law enforcement teams over the course of several weeks made contact with more than 270 Native Americans released onto the streets of Phoenix by sober living homes that have been targeted by a state crackdown on fraudulent billing.

Navajos account for most Native Americans grappling with addictions who have been affected by the scam and subsequent crackdown.

"The Blackfeet Tribal Business Council hereby declares a Public Health State of Emergency for the Black Feet Tribal Members affected by the humanitarian crises arising from shuttered fraudulent behavioral health treatment facilities in Arizona," the official announcement read.

The Blackfeet Nation says it'll continue to address the needs of its people displaced from these shuttered homes and provide them with resources. That includes resources for travel, medical, equipment, contacting other means of support and more funding.

In a previous FOX 10 Investigates report, the sister of Josh Racine says he was recruited from Blackfeet Nation in Browning, Montana to go to a sober living home in the Phoenix metro area.

Laura McGee, his sister, says he didn’t stay long at the facility and ended up on the streets of Phoenix while someone had his phone.

She filed a missing persons report in Phoenix. Josh’s relatives eventually found him near 75th Avenue and McDowell Road – more than two months after he left Montana.

"They just wanted to get him out as soon as possible, and drove all night until they arrived back into Montana," she said.

How does the scheme work exactly?

A group home or sober living home is set up by either purchasing or renting a house.

The services offered are for substance abuse or mental health issues.

Fraudsters target Native Americans from several reservations. These individuals may be intoxicated and will likely be offered alcohol while transported to the home.

They even target them outside Phoenix Indian Medical Center or if they are homeless.

They'll receive government funding through the Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System, or AHCCCS, capitalizing on Arizona Medicaid benefits belonging to members.

Tenants are also told to give up their food stamps to provide food for the home or as rent payment.

In order for group homes to get paid directly through AHCCCS, that requires licensing with the Department of Health. The FBI believes unlicensed facilities are getting paid as well.

You can read more about the scheme here.

More about the Blackfeet Nation in Montana

"The reservation is home to the Blackfeet tribe. Of the approximately 15,560 enrolled tribal members, there are about 7,000 living on or near the reservation. Nearly 27 percent of enrolled members are of three-fourths or greater Indian blood," says the website for the Office of the Governor Indian Affairs in Montana.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.