Lakota Country Times: Pine Ridge Hospital sees shakeup in staff

The Pine Ridge Hospital on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota will offer services on Saturday, with clinics running from noon to midnight. The hours of the existing Sunday clinic will also be expanded by seven hours. Photo by Dean Kurtz Construction

Private Company To Staff ER
Shakeups at IHS in the works
By Brandon Ecoffey
Lakota Country Times Editor

PINE RIDGE -- Only weeks after Oglala Sioux Tribal President John "Yellowbird" Steele pledged to close the Aberdeen Area Office and contract out the emergency room in Pine Ridge, federal officials opted to hire a contractor to do just that.

The Indian Health Service announced that it has hired Arizona-based AB Staffing Solutions LLC to run the emergency rooms of hospitals on the Rosebud and Pine Ridge Indian reservations in South Dakota and the Winnebago Reservation in Nebraska.

“This new contract underscores the IHS commitment to pursuing creative new solutions that ensure high quality care for our patients, who are our top priority,” said Mary Smith, principal deputy director of the IHS. “The new contract will benefit IHS patients and providers by ensuring a 24-hour Emergency Department at IHS Rosebud Hospital and two others. IHS recognizes that high quality emergency room services are critical to communities.”

All three hospitals failed inspections from the Center for Medicaid and Medicare who found deficiencies in care at the facilities. Representatives from IHS did make an effort to inform the public that the problems found at Pine Ridge were not as serious as those in Rosebud, however the IHS facility in Pine Ridge was docked by inspectors for not having installed a tele-health system in addition to several other violations.

When news first broke about President Steele's intentions to contract out emergency room services at the Pine Ridge hospital staff members expressed concern over job safety but a release from IHS said that these employees will be reassigned.

"As part of IHS’s commitment to quality care throughout these hospitals, IHS staff serving in these Emergency Departments will be assigned to other departments, enabling IHS to decrease overall patient wait times and offer more services at night and on weekends. At Pine Ridge IHS Hospital, for example, at least 21 nurses and 10 medical support assistants currently serving in the Emergency Department will be shifted to other hospital outpatient clinics. With these staffing changes, Pine Ridge IHS Hospital will offer -- for the first time -- services on Saturday, with clinics running from noon to midnight. The hours of the existing Sunday clinic at Pine Ridge IHS Hospital will also be expanded by seven hours beyond the current hours and will now run from noon to midnight, as well," said IHS in the release.

Winnebago will also have its current emergency room staff reassigned to other areas of need in the hospital.

The contract provided to AB staffing requires to company to recruit and hire a physician to serve as Director of the emergency rooms at Pine Ridge, Rosebud, and Winnebago.

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The move by IHS comes after all three facilities nearly lost their ability to bill Medicaid and Medicare for services. Had this happened the hospitals would have lost one of their primary revenue generators. In order to continue he billing Medicare/Medicaid for services the hospitals signed a Systems Improvement Agreements with the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services that "requires that in the short-term IHS obtain the services of an Emergency Department medical group contractor for Pine Ridge Hospital and for Rosebud Hospital."

The IHS Great Plains Area serves 130,000 patients in Iowa, Nebraska, South Dakota and North Dakota by operating 16 federal government facilities and funding the operations of 17 tribally operated health facilities. The contract with AB has a $60 million ceiling and is for one year and could be extended to up to five years.

(Contact Brandon Ecoffey at

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