Direct Relief Announces $10 Million in Grant Funding To Boost Resilient Power for Health Facilities in Tribal Communities

Feb 27, 2024 6:20 PM ET
Solar panels line the roof of a health center.
Direct Relief has supported backup power projects across the U.S., and is expanding to health facilities in tribal communities, both rural and urban. (Erika P. Rodriguez for Direct Relief)

February 27, 2024 /3BL/ - To help address the persistent power challenges faced by tribal communities across the United States, Direct Relief today unveiled an initial $10 million funding commitment that will provide grants to bolster health facilities’ energy resilience and enhance care for patients who rely on them.

This new $10 million commitment is a focused expansion on tribal communities of Direct Relief’s Power for Health initiative. The initiative provides philanthropic support to ensure resilient power and operational continuity for nonprofit health facilities in high-risk-of-outage areas to ensure critical services are maintained, including during weather-related emergencies in which health risks are heightened.

Healthcare services are highly dependent on power being available to access electronic health records, maintain medications that require refrigeration, operate basic diagnostic equipment, and keep the lights on. The Power for Health initiative already has provided funding of $44 million to support resilient power for 130 projects globally, including at 56 U.S. nonprofit clinics and health centers.

“Direct Relief has seen the increasingly common situation of power losses during emergencies leaving safety-net health facilities unable to function and provide care when needed most for patients without other options. Many tribal communities face intensified health risks due to already limited health care access as well as power availability, high energy costs, and more frequent outages,” said Thomas Tighe, Direct Relief CEO.

The $10 million investment is aimed specifically at achieving several objectives:

  • Operational Continuity: Helping ensure that tribal health centers can continue to provide essential services during power outages.
  • Economic Relief: Alleviating the burden of energy costs that weigh down on health facilities, making healthcare provision more sustainable. Strengthened
  • Healthcare Safety Nets: Fortifying healthcare infrastructure within tribal communities.

The critical need for investment in resilient energy infrastructure on tribal lands is underscored by findings from a recent Department of Energy report, which sheds light on the acute electricity access and reliability challenges confronting tribal areas that are further compounded by the escalating threat of climate change-induced weather events.

According to the report:

“Climate-related threats to Tribal infrastructure are expected to increase in frequency and severity under future climate scenarios, thus being highly vulnerable to impacts associated with climate change. These climate change vulnerabilities have motivated Indian Tribes to explore options for distributed clean energy solutions.”

Other key findings from the report include:

  • Tribal communities experience 6.5 times more power outages than the broader United States.
  • 10 percent of on-reservation households spend more than 20 percent of their income on energy, while the average U.S. household spends less than 3 percent.
  • The Department of Energy – Office of Indian Energy is only able to fund 30 percent of tribal project applications. Seventy percent of proposed projects are unable to be funded.

Direct Relief’s commitment to tribal clean energy is a response to this urgent need, aiming to mitigate these challenges through sustainable and resilient power solutions.

As a purely philanthropic initiative, grants are provided to cover the full costs of designing and installing solar and battery systems, which are then owned and maintained by the recipient tribal health organization. All financial benefits accrue to the recipient organizations.

“Direct Relief recognizes that many creative financing options exist for solar and battery projects in the U.S., but we believe this is a very strong case for philanthropic support and a compelling value-for-money proposition to enhance health services for people facing tough circumstances,” said Tighe. “The basic difference is the same as between a student loan and a scholarship – both are ways to pay for college, but one is paid back, and the other is not. Direct Relief’s approach is that of scholarship, not a loan, which we believe is appropriate for a charitable organization.”