Weahkee was not asked about, and he did not bring up, the loss of certification at a unit In Nebraska that serves citizens of the Omaha Tribe and the Winnebago Tribe. Patients were dying and being mistreated at the facility, which has since been taken over and reopened as the Twelve Clans Unity Hospital by the Winnebago Tribe, whose leaders are working to become accredited on their own since the IHS was unable to do the same. But Udall pointed out that other regions of Indian Country have been plagued with substandard care. Just last month, the facility that serves Pueblo and Navajo patients in New Mexico was forced to shut down its emergency room and its urgent care unit because the IHS -- according to information provided to tribal citizens and seen by Indianz.Com -- couldn't find anyone to work there. Weahkee, however, did not directly explain what happened at the Acoma-Canoncito-Laguna Service Unit, where tribal patients were diverted to facilities much further away from their communities. Instead, he said he would try to make the IHS a more attractive place for doctors, nurses and other health care professionals to work. "There are many different challenges to our recruitment and retention efforts," said Weahkee, who cited housing, transportation and educational opportunities for spouses and families as among the barriers to bringing in more professional into the IHS workforce.
Members of the committee are also still very concerned about another lingering scandal at the IHS. Stanley Patrick Weber, who worked as a pediatrician at the agency for decades, has been convicted of abusing young male patients on two different reservations, one in South Dakota and the other in Montana. According to a groundbreaking investigation by PBS Frontline and The Wall Street Journal, Weber remained employed at the IHS even though some fellow employees raised concerns about his behaviors. Potential whistleblowers were sidelined as the man dubbed the "Predator on the Reservation" was transferred to other places instead of being held accountable. “Those types of activities are absolutely unacceptable and will not be tolerated," said Weahkee, who vowed to set a "tone at the top" in which transparency and openness are key values at the IHS. "We cannot risk any harm to our patients." PBS Frontline / Wall Street Journal stories detailing similar incidents elsewhere in Indian Country, he said the IHS hasn't done enough to promote positive initiatives in tribal communities. "How will you make sure that you don't have a repeat of something like what happened with Stanley Patrick Weber?" asked Sen. John Hoeven (R-North Dakota), the chairman of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs. According to Weahkee, the IHS has developed a "centralized" credentialing system to ensure that health care professionals are in good standing before they are hired by the agency. He also said employees are being encouraged to report something "that doesn't look right" so that incidents and behaviors can be investigated. "You have my full commitment to transparency and openness," Weahkee later told Udall, who also brought up the Weber scandal.
Michael Weahkee being sworn in by the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs. He’s been nominated by President Trump to serve as director of the Indian Health Service. The agency has been without a permanent leader for more than four years. @IHSDirector @IHSgov @IndianCommittee pic.twitter.com/AIp4lfv8xw— indianz.com (@indianz) December 11, 2019
President Trump announced his intent to nominate Weahkee to serve as director of the IHS on October 22. The nomination was received by the U.S. Senate on October 30. The confirmation hearing on Wednesday marked a major step in the process for Weahkee, whose official title at the IHS is Principal Deputy Director. Weaver, on the other hand, never even got that far before he was forced out last year. And in contrast to the prior pick, Weahkee has received a significant level of support from Indian Country. The National Indian Health Board, the Association of American Indian Physicians, the United South and Eastern Tribes and dozens of tribal nations, tribal organizations and Indian health entities are supporting his nomination.
Michael Weahkee's statement: "From my mother Glinda, I learned the importance of a strong work ethic & of selfless service. From my father Jim, I inherited my ‘Indian-ness’ and being Zuni, & I learned the value of culture, traditions, and having a good sense of humor in life." pic.twitter.com/AVpDZvbfWS— indianz.com (@indianz) December 11, 2019
The next step would be for the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs to advance Weahkee's nomination during a business meeting. The Senate would then be able to vote on confirming him as director of the IHS. The last confirmed director at the IHS was Yvette Roubideaux, a citizen of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe. She departed in 2015 and the agency has seen a slew of "acting" and temporary leaders since then.
Sen. Jon Tester (D-Montana) tells Michael Weahkee of Indian Health Service patients: "They don't believe there's anybody in the IHS thats fighting for them." Weahkee has been nominated by President Trump to serve as director of @IHSgov @IHSDirector @IndianCommittee @SenatorTester pic.twitter.com/T0wlbdX6DJ— indianz.com (@indianz) December 11, 2019
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