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Two tribes put Native Women's Health Clinic on notice

Lobby of Native Women's Health Clinic in Rapid City.
Lobby of Native Women's Health Clinic in Rapid City.

Two West River tribes are giving a Rapid City-based women’s health clinic a month to turn around its program.

The Native American centered pre-natal care clinic in question has reportedly seen zero patients since last April.

Rosebud and Cheyenne River Sioux Tribal officials are giving the Oglala Sioux Tribe and Native Women’s Health Clinic until May 4 to implement a corrective action plan, staff the clinic and start seeing patients again.

All three tribes contract with the federal government to provide pre-natal and women’s healthcare for tribal members in Rapid City. The Oglala Sioux Tribe administers the program.

Outside the federal courthouse building in Rapid City on Thursday, Oglala Sioux Tribe President Frank Star Comes Out said the tribe has addressed the Native Women’s Health Clinic.

“We already made agreements that, we hired—that situation’s been handled. It’ll be monitored from here on out. We have—we definitely did address it," Star Comes Out said. "It’ll be handled by the Oglala Sioux Tribe, for now.”

Star Comes Out said the intention is for the tribe to still run the clinic going forward.

A report last year found the number of healthcare visits quickly decreased over three years, down to zero since last April. Patients are being referred elsewhere—including to an Oyate Health Center midwife located a floor below the clinic.

During a March tribal council meeting, Rosebud Sioux Tribal president Scott Hermann said the tribe is considering moving its share of funding to cover women’s health to Oyate Health Center.

Hermann said the tribe needs to do what is in the best interest of tribal members living in Rapid City.

“Because it can cause some problems. We can be liable for anything that could happen to them because we’re not providing that service for them,” Hermann said. “Something happens as far as their pregnancy, or a miscarriage or something like that, that comes into play. Those kind of issues will come up if we don’t address it.”

Some estimate the lack of services affects anywhere from 1,500 to 2,000 of enrolled Native women living near the Black Hills.

 One Rosebud tribal council member said all three tribes share in the blame for the lack of women’s health services.

According to the South Dakota Department of Health, from 2012 to 2021, American Indians accounted for 20 percent of all births in South Dakota, but accounted for 44 percent of all pregnancy associated deaths.

Earlier this year, the Great Plains Tribal Health Board—which runs Oyate Health Center—urged the federal government to declare a public health emergency in response to a surge in syphilis cases in the region.

Lee Strubinger is SDPB’s Rapid City-based news and political reporter. A former reporter for Fort Lupton Press (CO) and Colorado Public Radio, Lee holds a master’s in public affairs reporting from the University of Illinois-Springfield.
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