Rosebud Sioux Tribe struggles with shutdown of emergency room


A sign on the Rosebud Sioux Reservation in South Dakota. Photo from Rosebud Sioux Tribe / Facebook

The closure of an Indian Health Service emergency room continues to take a heavy toll on the Rosebud Sioux Tribe.

Due to longstanding problems at the Rosebud Hospital, the IHS placed the emergency room on "diversion" status last December. Seven months later, there appears to be no end in sight to the crisis.

Tribal members seeking emergency care must now travel to hospitals 45 to 55 miles away. Since December, five babies have been born in ambulances and nine people have died while being transported to facilities far from the reservation.

"This cries out for an investigation by someone other than IHS," William Bear Shield, a Rosebud tribal council member, told the House Subcommittee on Indian, Insular and Alaska Native Affairs on Tuesday.

Rep. Kristi Noem (R-South Dakota) supports the tribe's call for an investigation. She said the families who lost their loves ones deserve to know whether the deaths were "preventable."

And Mary Smith, the leader of the IHS, said she would support an investigation, possibly by the Office of Inspector General at the Department of Health and Human Services.


Indianz.Com SoundCloud: House Subcommittee on Indian, Insular and Alaska Native Affairs July, 12 2016

"That is really why we have an emergency situation," said Noem, who has introduced H.R.5406, the Helping Ensure Accountability, Leadership, and Trust in Tribal Healthcare Act (HEALTTH Act), a bill to reform the IHS.

Another IHS reform bill, S.2953, the IHS Accountability Act, includes a provision that would require the OIG at HHS to "investigate each patient death in which the [IHS] is alleged to be involved by an act or omission."

The tribe has sued the IHS in hopes of reopening the emergency room. The complaint, which was filed in April, notes that the shutdown has caused "immediate and irreparable injury" to the Rosebud people.

The Obama administration has yet to answer the complaint. Government attorneys have asked for an extension to file a response by August 4, according to a motion filed on July 1.

"This request for additional time is not made for the purpose of delay," the office of U.S. Attorney Randolph J. Seiler wrote.

House Subcommittee on Indian, Insular and Alaska Native Affairs Notice:
Legislative Hearing on the "HEALTTH Act" (July 12, 2016)

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