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Tribal Officials Point To Funding, Thune Points To Accountability Over IHS Woes

Wiki Commons

Tribal members from Nebraska and South Dakota packed the Rapid City council chambers Thursday to discuss the IHS Accountability Act of 2016.

It’s a reform bill meant to tackle mismanagement by network of hospitals both on and off reservations.

South Dakota U.S. Senator John Thune introduced the bill last month, and a panel is seeking input on the measure.

The federal government is required to provide healthcare to tribal members. But many Native Americans even forgo the care they are guaranteed, due to poor conditions at Indian Health Services hospitals.

US Senator John Thune says over the past several years, IHS reassured Indian Affairs that conditions were improving. He says the reports they received were an inaccurate representation of what was truly happening at the hospital.

“When we start hearing these anecdotal stories, again, about dirty and unsanitary equipment, patients being prematurely discharged from the hospital, babies being born on bathroom floors with no personnel there to oversee any of that, it was really a sad commentary on how the state of things had gotten,” Thune says.

Thune says the poor leadership of IHS is what prevents the service from providing quality care.

Wehnona Stabler is a tribal health director for the Omaha Tribe of Nebraska. She says she’s operated three IHS hospitals in the past and says the issue is about funding…

“If Congress would fund our need, the way they fund other programs… And I see a lot of money going overseas to cultures that we have had wars against. They go in and they rebuild their communities, they spend beaucoup bucks. And here we are, the first American’s and we can’t get any help. We’re only funded at maybe 40 percent at our hospitals,” Stabler says.

Stabler says she wants to thank the agency that threatened to pull funding from IHS after investigators found deficiencies at a third tribal hospital. She says inspectors with the Centers for Medicaid and Medicare Services did their job, while IHS tried to finagle the findings.