Michael D. Weahkee. Photo: Phoenix Indian Medical Center Indian Health Service

Indian Health Service remains without permanent leader amid scrutiny

The Trump administration has named another temporary director for the Indian Health Service amid ongoing scrutiny of the beleaguered agency.

Michael D. Weahkee, a citizen of the Pueblo of Zuni, was named “acting” director in June, The Wall Street Journal reported in a lengthy expose on the IHS. He is the third person in the last two years to serve in the post.

President Donald Trump has yet to name a permanent leader for the agency, whose last director left in June 2015. Aides in the Senate have been told to prepare for a nominee this summer, Indianz.Com reported last month, something The Journal also confirms is possible, citing sources “familiar with the matter.”

The need for stable leadership at the IHS has been repeatedly stressed in order to make long-overdue improvements. The Journal's report includes numerous examples of mistreatment and mismanagement, resulting in deaths to tribal citizens who rely on the agency for care promised by numerous treaties and federal laws.

“It felt undignified how he was treated,” Lisa White Pipe, a council member for the Rosebud Sioux Tribe whose father died after being diagnosed with cancer, told The Journal. “He was in pain and just pushed to the side.”

All of the examples come from patients who sought care in the Great Plains Area. The region, which includes Nebraska and South Dakota, is considered one of the worst in terms of performance -- an unprecedented four facilities have been sanctioned or threatened with sanctions and at least 11 people have died at those facilities since 2011, The Journal reported.

Read More on the Story:
‘People Are Dying Here’: Federal Hospitals Fail Native Americans (The Wall Street Journal 7/7)
Families Speak Out: Stories of Indian Health Service Patients (The Wall Street Journal 7/7)

Join the Conversation

Related Stories
Witness list for hearing on bill to reform the Indian Health Service (June 20, 2017)
Second hearing scheduled on bill to reform the Indian Health Service (June 16, 2017)
Embattled Indian Health Service hospital losing top executive again (June 14, 2017)
Indian Health Service reform bill up for first hearing on Capitol Hill (June 12, 2017)
Indian Health Service names a permanent chief medical officer (June 5, 2017)
John Thune: The Indian Health Service must be held accountable (June 2, 2017)
Lawmakers once again seek fixes to 'broken' Indian Health Service (May 25, 2017)