Some Natives Cautiously Optimistic Of New IHS Oversight Bill

Jun 17, 2016

The Senate Indian Affairs field hearing on Indian Health Service was held at Rapid City Central High School on Friday
Credit Lee Strubinger / SDPB

Federal lawmakers hope to create institutional change at the Indian Health Service with a bill meant to protect whistleblowers, increase oversite and implement leadership changes. The bill was discussed at length in Rapid City late last week.

Several hours of testimony and hearings on what it’s like to receive care from IHS hospitals was meant to give lawmakers an idea of the culture at several Great Plains area hospitals.

Congressional officials say the conversations will help shape the IHS accountability act of 2016.  David Plume, from Pine Ridge, calls the bill progress.

“I hope that it improves quality of healthcare. It’s a step by step process. It certainly isn’t going to happen overnight. I’ve heard them say things that I’ve never heard our elected officials say before that is promising to me. But it’s a wait and see, also,” Plume says.

Plume says he agrees that resources need to be better utilized, but he says Congress also needs to properly fund the IHS.

Danelle Smith is an attorney for the Winnebago Tribe of Nebraska. She says she expects the bill to pass, but IHS regulations have been created before…

“IHS has not implemented them fully or in the way they were intended. So that’s going to be the key, and how timely is that going to be because we have these patient care issues happening now, today. So, the solutions need to be fast and we can’t sit around and wait for a year for regulations to be developed before anything happens. In the meantime we have patients that are dying on the road and not receiving the care that they deserve,” Smith says.

Smith says the bill is a good first step.  But she doesn’t believe more funding can happen until the IHS is accountable.

Victoria Kitcheyan (Kit-che-yawn) is a tribal council treasurer with the Winnebago tribe in Nebraska. She says she wants action tied to the bill.

However, she says congress likely won’t pour additional funding into a poor system.

“So the next step would be the audit, and I really think that would really—is really going to blow the roof off this whole—and that’s pretty much what their hiding is the financials to this point. So, I think it’s a next step in our long term solution,” Kitcheyan says.

Kitcheyan says the hearing was a good attempt at consulting with the tribes.

South Dakota U.S. Senators John Thune and Mike Rounds were on the panel, as well as Representative Kristi Noem.