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HHS roundup: victim services, medical trucks

Dr. Vandhana Kiswani-Barley is the executive director of the Seminole Tribe’s Health and Human Services Department. (File photo)

HOLLYWOOD – The Seminole Tribe’s Health and Human Services (HHS) Department recently received a recurring grant to help continue to fund victim services across the reservations.

The Office for Victims of Crime, one of six program offices within the Office of Justice Programs at the U.S. Department of Justice, administers the grant. Funds are directed to the tribe’s Center for Behavioral Health (CBH), part of HHS, which has six employees who form a crisis response team.

The goal of victim services and crisis response, said HHS executive director Dr. Vandhana Kiswani-Barley, is intervention and stabilization.

“We provide resources and try to mitigate the situation, whether it’s victims of domestic violence or burglary,” she said. “The crisis response team works to provide a continuum of care for victims – anyone exposed to a situation.”

Crisis calls could also involve mental health issues or substance use situations, Kiswani-Barley said. The crisis team’s aim is to deescalate, assess, and divert individuals to CBH for support when appropriate. Kiswani-Barley said that while the crisis response team is not part of law enforcement, it works with police when necessary.

Congress annually authorizes set-aside funds from the crime victims fund for a tribal victim services set-aside program, which provides support to tribal communities to enhance services for victims of crime, in line with the requirements of the Victims of Crime Act.

Medical trucks

At the height of the Covid-19 pandemic, HHS purchased four medical trucks – mobile medical units – for the primary purpose of responding to the high demand for Covid-19 testing. The idea was to use the trucks so tribal members wouldn’t have to wait in line to be tested in outdoor tents. But due to supply chain issues and delays, the trucks were never delivered.

The trucks are still on the way, but Kiswani-Barley recently asked Tribal Council to approve some modifications to the vehicles, since the need for Covid-19 testing has diminished with the widespread availability of home tests.

Kiswani-Barley said some of the updates would include the ability to transport those in wheelchairs or with other disabilities; the addition of Starlink Mobility (which gives the vehicle internet access); and onboard medical refrigerators among other features and services.

She said the trucks would be particularly valuable to those communities that don’t have medical clinics – like Fort Pierce, Lakeland and Trail. A firm timeline for modified trucks to be delivered is not yet known.

New staff

Meanwhile, Kiswani-Barley said HHS has added two new nurse practitioners to its staff. The Immokalee health clinic hired Alisha Mattern (Cherokee) and the Big Cypress health clinic hired Sandra Gabriel. Kiswani-Barley said one of the tribe’s veteran nurse practitioners at the Brighton health clinic – Melanie Melo – recently retired, but has agreed to return part-time, two days a week, to fill in any gaps that arise.

Damon Scott
Damon is a multimedia journalist for the Seminole Tribune. He has previously been an editor and reporter for digital and print media in Florida and his home state of New Mexico. Send him an email at