Indian Health Service vows reforms at troubled tribal hospitals

Federal officials have vowed to improve levels of care at government-run tribal hospitals, conceding many of the facilities deliver "unacceptable" levels of care, according to the Associated Press.

In Nebraska and South Dakota, federal inspectors found numerous major, potentially life-threatening problems at three Indian Health Services (IHS) facilities, including unsecured drugs and non-credentialed doctors. Last November, the emergency room at South Dakota's Rosebud Indian Reservation's hospital was shut down after dire inspection results. Patients were diverted to the next nearest facility about 50 miles away, according to the article.

"We are committed to fixing these issues not simply in the short-term but so that the changes are sustainable over time," IHS Principal Deputy Director Mary Smith told tribal leaders, according to the article. "I am committed, along with the rest of the team, to creating a culture of quality, accountability and leadership."

The Rosebud ER is a particular concern, Jerilyn Church, CEO of the Great Plains Tribal Chairmen's Health Board, told the Associated Press in a story published by The Daily Republic. "We are going on four months now," without the ER, she said, "and, really, we had expected that by now they would have developed a strategy to address that immediately."

Smith made the remarks during a two-and-a-half-hour meeting where she also outlined potential fixes for IHS problems, according to the Argus Leader. She pledged to update equipment at the struggling facilities using a $2 million Congressional appropriation, and expressed hope that President Barack Obama's proposed 2017 budget, which boosts funding for tribal hospitals by an additional $402 million, would go to staff recruitment and retention, technological advancements such as telehealth, and more housing on reservations.

The meeting comes just more than a week after the Gila River Indian Community filed a complaint in federal court claiming the scandal-plagued Department of Veterans Affairs illegally hindered reimbursement for care for patients who opted for care at a tribal hospital rather than the Phoenix VA, ground zero for the 2014 scandal, according to Courthouse News Service.

To learn more:
- here's the AP article
- here's the Republic coverage
- read the Leader story
- check out the Courthouse News Service report