Michael Toedt. Photo: Cherokee Indian Hospital

Indian Health Service names a permanent chief medical officer

The Indian Health Service has announced a new chief medical officer amid efforts to reform the troubled agency.

Michael Toedt started out at the IHS as a physician in 1999, according to his LinkedIn profile. Most of his time was spent at the Cherokee Indian Hospital in North Carolina, which serves the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians. Most recently, he served as the chief medical officer at the agency's IHS Area in Nashville, Tennessee.

“I know Dr. Michael Toedt as a strong advocate for quality health care services for Indian people, and I am so pleased to welcome him to his new position as permanent IHS chief medical officer,” Chris Buchanan, the acting director of the IHS, said in a press release. “Dr. Toedt’s lifelong commitment to service is an inspiring example. His important work on clinical and community-based health programs will lead our IHS health professionals in further advancing the IHS mission.”

Toedt has been serving as acting chief medical officer since the start of the Trump administration. He took on that role after his predecessor, Susan Karol, moved to a different position within the Department of Health and Human Services.

Karol, who is a citizen of the Tuscarora Nation, was forced to make a public apology last year for comments she made about the quality of care in the Great Plains Area of the IHS. She is now with the Division of Tribal Affairs at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, which plays a key role in the certification of hospitals in Indian Country.

In 2015 and 2016, four facilities in the Great Plains, a region that includes Nebraska and South Dakota, had to make critical improvements after the CMS uncovered numerous lapses in patient care. But one of them, the Omaha-Winnebago Hospital in Nebraska, still lacks certification, which has left the facility without a key source of revenues.

"I just come here yet again with no good news -- we're not certified, we're pushing it back further," Victoria Kitcheyan, the treasurer for the Winnebago Tribe, told lawmakers at a hearing last month. "Frankly, I'm tired of telling you the same thing over and over again."

But the Great Plains isn't the only problem area. Republican lawmakers have introduced the Restoring Accountability in the Indian Health Service Act to address longstanding management, employment and fiscal issues at the agency, whose programs have been labeled "high risk" by the Government Accountability Office.

"While there are many hard-working people who do good work for the IHS, too many systemic challenges remain," Sen. John Thune (R-South Dakota), who is a co-sponsor of S.1250, wrote in an opinion piece last week. "The status quo is unacceptable, and it has to change."

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