|The following story was written and reported by Clara Caufield. All content © Native
Diana McLean, Northern Cheyenne tribal member, is overcome as she relates her near-death experience with I.H.S. to Billings Gazette reporter Cindy Yukin. Photo by/Clara Caufield
Reporter from Gazette visits
reservation to check on I.H.S. turmoil
By Clara Caufield
LAME DEER, Mont. — Over the past few months, key developments affecting the Indian Health Service, specifically the Billings Area has been the topic of considerable press coverage by the Billings Gazette, the AP stories picked up by other newspapers, including Native Sun News.
Concerns about I.H.S. health care were initially brought to the forefront by the Crow Tribe, Mont. which enacted a Tribal Resolution requesting a federal investigation into the I.H.S., and specifically the Northern Cheyenne/Crow Hospital located in Crow Agency, built to provide health care services to both Tribes. Shortly thereafter, Anna Whiting Sorrell, Billings I.H.S. Area Director and member of the Confederated Salish Kootenai Tribe resigned after a short 18 months at that post. Apparently, Sorrell had decided to resign prior to the Crow Tribal action. The two decisions were not related.
No new comer to health care, Sorrell formerly served as the Director of the State Health & Human Services Department and as Health Policy Advisor for eight years under former Governor Brian Schweitzer. She has since returned to her home Reservation to work for the Salish Kootenai Tribal Health Program.
In resigning, Sorrell cited a dysfunctional I.H.S. system and the general inability to proactively make changes within it. During that same period of time, in response to the Crow request, Montana Senators Jon Tester (Chairman of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs) D-MT and John Walsh D-MT requested a federal GAO investigation into the Indian Health Service, requesting an emphasis on the Billings Service Area. All of these developments were covered by Billings Gazette reporter, Cindy Yukin.
Since, Tester has scheduled a field hearing on May 27 to be held at the Billings Parmley Library. According to Tester’s press staff, the Senator wants to hear from “Indians on the ground who have real life stories to share."
President Llevando “Cowboy” Fisher agrees that is very important and is working to ensure that Northern Cheyenne tribal members have the opportunity to testify at the hearing. “I think the Tribe can and should arrange transportation to make sure they can get there,” he said.
Yukin has wisely decided to follow up on this overall issue, by coming to the Reservation level to interview tribal members who have concerns about I.H.S. health care. In addition to visiting the Crow Reservation, Yukin spent time in Lame Deer interviewing a number of Northern Cheyenne who shared health care experiences, many of a life-threatening nature.
At Yukin’s request, A Cheyenne Voice facilitated several interviews, deciding that coverage of such incidents by the Billings Gazette would be viewed more objectively than if printed by a Native source. These personal stories will soon be printed in the Billings Gazette to illustrate the chronic problems with the I.H.S. health care delivery system.
During her April visit, Yukin also met with tribal officials, President Llevando “Cowboy” Fisher; Vice-President Winfield Russell, Council member Marlene Redneck (former tribal health director), Janet Wolfname, Assistant to the Tribal President, a registered nurse and Steve Small, Tribal EDA Administrator.
While the Northern Cheyenne Tribal Council has not taken official action on the I.H.S. matters, Fisher recommends that the GAO investigation focus on the Northern Cheyenne/Crow Hospital, the Lame Deer Service Unit and the Northern Cheyenne Tribal Health Program.
“We receive many complaints about health care,” he said. “I hope this whole process can bring about better health care for our people, especially the Veterans, elders and those suffering from serious illness.”
(Clara Caufield can be reached @ acheyennevoice.com)
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