Senate Indian Affairs Committee Hearing Comes to Rapid City

indianaffairsThanks to the tireless efforts of Senator John Thune (R-SD) and Congresswoman Kristi Noem (R-SD) and the eager support of Senator Mike Rounds (R-SD), a full-fledged U.S. Senate Indian Affairs Committee Hearing was held at Rapid City’s Central High School auditorium.

Horror stories of patient neglect, deplorable conditions and gross staff deficiencies have plagued Indian Health Service (IHS) facilities for years and recent inspections uncovered severe patient care deficiencies. This health care crisis motivated Senator John Thune and Committee Chairman Senator John Barrasso (R-WY) to introduce a bill (S.2953), to promote patient-centered care and accountability at the Indian Health Service.

Earlier this week, a Town Hall meeting was conducted to take testimony and comment on the proposed bill from the stakeholders in the Great Plains region. Tribal leaders and members brought their opinions, suggestions. and specific frustrations to the Committee staffers that will be considered for inclusion in the proposed bill which, in fact, is still a work in progress.

S.2953 is intended to increase transparency and accountability at the IHS, improve personnel practices (including requiring tribal consultation in hiring hospital management), and to require the Inspector General of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to investigate patient deaths at IHS facilities.

Senator John Thune pointed out that minor tweaks will not eliminate the problems at IHS and that full-scale systemic changes must be implemented.

Senator Mike Rounds pressed the Acting Deputy Secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Mary Wakefield, for a specific date when certain documents and copies of contracts would be made available but did not receive a clear answer.

Congresswoman Kristi Noem drew spontaneous applause from the 300+ gallery when she said, “the IHS should get out of the hospital business” as they are providing “Third World” care.

It appears that meaningful improvement to a clearly broken healthcare system will finally be addressed.  This is a result  of a committed cooperative effort by the entire South Dakota Congressional delegation and the crucial support of Chairman John Barrasso.

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