Tribal leaders from six states are visiting Rapid City today through Friday to discuss Indian Health Services.
Let’s hope the meeting produces some substantive results, instead of winding up as just another costly junket for government employees.
Dr. Yvette Roubideaux, who heads the Aberdeen Area office of IHS, was scheduled to meet with tribal leaders today to hear their concerns about health services.
On Thursday, the tribal leaders will air their concerns with officials from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, which oversees IHS.
While it’s important to talk about problems and hear from tribal leaders, action to correct serious problems at IHS is long overdue.
The Senate Select Committee on Indian Affairs issued a scathing report last fall documenting years of mismanagement that undermined health care in the four states served by the Aberdeen Area office.
The investigation found that the IHS office had hired convicted criminals, failed to stop employees from stealing narcotics and even placed some workers on paid leaves for more than a year while they were being investigated for misconduct.
Although Roubideaux pledged to work on those problems, apparently little has changed in terms of better service delivery.
Merle St. Clair, tribal chairman of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa, said a tribal dialysis center on his reservation was flooded, forcing patients to travel more than 100 miles three or four times a week to obtain treatment.
He met with Roubideaux a month ago to plead for help, but has gotten no official response.
He’s not optimistic this week’s meetings in Rapid City will amount to anything more than an expensive gab fest.
“It seems the IHS is meeting in Rapid City to come up with new excuses for the problems identified within the congressional report,” St. Clair said.
In a live chat held with the Rapid City Journal earlier this week – which can be viewed at www.rapidcityjournal.com under “What’s new?” – St. Clair said his own father died prematurely due to IHS incompetence, after being diagnosed with the flu when he was actually going into a diabetic coma.
“I will not elaborate on other families’ suffering and loss,” he said.
We urge federal administrators and our congressional delegation to stop paying lip service to these life and death issues and actually do something about it.