Native Sun News: IHS criticized for service in South Dakota

The following story was written and reported by Ernestine Chasing Hawk. All content © Native Sun News.

Lori King speaks about Indian Health Service in Rapid City, South Dakota.

RAPID CITY, SOUTH DAKOTA — Rapid City Indian Health Service was criticized for administering Band-Aid and Tylenol, and Indians would rather get their health care elsewhere.

Several Indians from the Rapid City community said they were pleased when they became eligible for disability, Medicaid or Medicare because they could seek medical attention at Rapid City Regional Hospital and other health care facilities.

“People would rather go to Rapid City Regional Hospital because they get treated with dignity and respect,” Tekawitha Thomas said during a May 20 meeting at the Mother Butler Center.

Mark Lone Hill organized the forum to hear grievances about the services provided by the Rapid City Indian Health Service hospital because he recently went to the RCIHS Dental Clinic at 6 a.m. and there were people already waiting in line.

“Does this happen to everyone else? Something needs to be done about this,” he said.

Nearly 80 people showed up to air their grievances, some displayed anger and others shed tears as they told their tales of ill-treatment at the hundred year old facility formerly known as Sioux San Hospital.

Among those present to listen to Rapid City Indian Community members were RCIHS CEO Fred Koebrick and Sandy Massey, US Congresswoman Kristi Noem’s (R-SD) West River constituent services representative.

Rapid City resident Mary Bowman said that she brought her seriously ill child to the emergency room and had to wait more than six hours to be seen. She also said it had been more than two years since a specialist told her that her child needed surgery and have tubes put in her ears but was denied by IHS contract health. She said she couldn’t afford to pay for the surgery to be done elsewhere.

Marilyn Gayton said she went to the emergency room with pain and was given pain medication and sent home. Later during a visit to the Black Hills Orthopedic specialist she was told that she had had a heart attack and that her pancreas was damaged.

Lisa Adams, Oglala, said, “I am one of the older community members. Sioux San wouldn’t be here if we weren’t here. It is my hospital.” She said she had a complaint about one of the pharmacy employees and because she complained, “I was put out in the field. They asked me to take my healthcare somewhere else.”

Carmen King, Sicangu, said she had gone to the RCIHS emergency room many times because of unbearable pain and was given pain medications including morphine. The emergency room staff would ask her to assess her pain on a scale from 1 to 10, 10 being the most severe as they administered pain medication. When the pain had subsided to level 1 she was sent home.

She was finally in such critical condition she had to be taken to the Rapid City Regional Hospital emergency room where they discovered she had several gallstones and needed to be on insulin. “If it wasn’t for Rapid City Regional I wouldn’t be here. Instead of giving pain medications why don’t you find out what is wrong,” she said, “I would rather get my health care elsewhere.”

Carry Schumacher, Cheyenne River Sioux who has lived in Rapid City all her life said she had an accident while riding a horse and went to RCIHS emergency room where she was administered muscle relaxers. After six months of physical therapy, an x-ray was taken at another facility when it was discovered she had a broken back.

Then she discovered, “That the x-ray I took at Sioux San (six months earlier) showed I had a broken back. I also found out I had a broken collar bone. Instead they prescribed me muscle relaxers and pain killers.” Now with limited mobility she said, “I think it all could have been prevented if someone had told me right away.”

Lori King, Oglala, talked about a brother “that should still be here” if Sioux San staff had only done a better job assessing his health condition. He died of a heart attack although he had visited Sioux San many times complaining about pain.

King also said her mother was given more and more medications over the years without question until one of Doctors finally started asking why. With a little attention he was able to reduce her medications to four.

“Something should have been and could have been done a long time ago. Now there are so many medical problems in our family, but we had nowhere else to go,” she said.

King also suffers from knee problems but was never able to get approval from IHS contract care for much needed surgery, until now. Because her knee problems have become so severe, she qualifies for disability and can receive healthcare elsewhere.

Henretta Scott, Cheyenne River Sioux said, “We need to get rid of the Band aid effect and the Tylenol effect” and said she misses Dr. Guzman who stayed with IHS for many years and now, “All we see is doctors coming and going.”

Vivian High Elk another CRST member said she was in Rapid City for cancer care and was approved for a program called “Walking Forward” a research project at Rapid City Regional hospital. She said she was in a lot of pain and had to go to the Sioux San emergency room and that the waiting room there was unsica (pitiful) and that something should be done about it.

Dick Boyd, Sicangu, a former employee of IHS said Rapid City Indians are the forgotten Indians. A catalyst for change, he said it was necessary to start doing something about the problems right away and encouraged all in the audience to draft a resolution and get as many signatures as possible.

“Get it in writing. Try to get a system going, otherwise our grandchildren are going to be standing up here with the same complaints we’re hearing here tonight. You can do it you have the means,” Boyd said.

RCIHS CEO Koebrick responded to many of the complaints including one where he was questioned about his credentials. He said that although he did not have a college degree he was qualified for the job of running a large IHS facility because he had more than 26 years of experience.

Members of the audience also questioned why there were so many Wasicu (non-Indians) working at the hospital when there were so many qualified Indians for the jobs.

“Many of our employees are from the Rapid City community,” he said. And on one question as to why it was so difficult to get appointments and be seen at RCIHS he said, “From my standpoint it is more difficult to get into Sioux San for medical care. In 2009 we had 109,000 service visits. Then in 2010 we had 128,000 service visits that’s an increase in one year of more than 20,000 service visits.”

He said in the Aberdeen area, Sioux San receives the lowest funding at 26 percent of the funding level needed. He said they should to be hiring one nurse everyday to keep up with the demand for service.

Lisa Short Bull, Oglala, who called herself “the odd man out” defended the staff at Sioux San hospital. She highlighted the importance of seeking solutions instead of just complaining about the problems.

“You guys that abused yourself with years and years of alcohol and drug abuse and now, oh gee, I want you to take care of me?” she said. “These people need a little more support, a little more respect.”

(Contact Ernestine Chasing Hawk at

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