Oglala Sioux Tribe Ambulance Service
Photo: Oglala Sioux Tribe Ambulance Service
“This ain’t Burger King”
Oglala Sioux Tribe Ambulance Service told they can’t have it their way
Tuesday, August 31, 2021

PINE RIDGE — Last week, Oglala Sioux Tribe Ambulance Service (OSTAS) employees issued a statement via a live Facebook video. The video was posted at 1:54 PM on August 17 and shows a group of uniformed staff standing together, with one staff member reading a statement:

“For too long, our true frontline workers, the ambulance service, has been disregarded by the Oglala Sioux Tribe and been operating under abhorrent conditions,” the employees stated. “The tribal council has been presented with a list of 15 ways necessary to better the working conditions at Oglala Sioux Tribe Ambulance Service. Everyday Oglala Sioux Tribe Ambulance Service employees put their lives and well-being at risk for the betterment of the 1000s of lives across the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation.”

“If a show of change hasn’t been presented by midnight, Friday August 20th, 2021, the OSTAS employees will be initiating a walkout,” the statement continued. “The Oglala Sioux Tribe took an oath of office to protect the general health of the people. And now is the time to honor that oath.”

“for too long, our true frontlines workers, the ambulance service, has been disregarded by the Oglala Sioux Tribe and been operating under abhorrent conditions. the tribal council has been presented with a list of 15 ways necessary to better the working conditions at Oglala Sioux Tribe Ambulance Service. Everyday Oglala Sioux Tribe Ambulance Service employees put their lives and well being at risk for the betterment of the 1000s of lives across the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. if a show of change hasn’t been presented by midnight, Friday August 20th, 2021 the OSTAS employees will be initiating a walkout. The Oglala Sioux Tribe took an oath of office to protect the general health of the people. it’s time to honor that oath now.”

Posted by Jess Cuny on Tuesday, August 17, 2021

Earlier that day, OSTAS staff met with the Health and Human Services (HHS) Committee to discuss their concerns and provided their list of 15 requests:

OST Ambulance Service necessities for safe operations
• $10 pay increase for EMS
EMT starts at $8.89 with an increase to 18.89.


• EMT-A/1 starts at 10.52 with an increase to 20.52.


• Paramedic starts at 12.50 with an increase to 22.50.

• Cost of Living Allowances guaranteed (3.5% step increases) guaranteed every year.

• Wage increases every year (0.25 – 1.00) depending on annual review scores every year.

• Grade/Step increase for all existing Permanent/Regular employees that have not received them over the years that the program never submitted for them.
 Ex: EMT who has been permanent since 2005 only received 5 step increases, should have 16 step increases.

• When an employee becomes a supervisor, or they achieve a higher level of care. That employee keeps their leave and steps they earned and accrued.

• Leave: Currently we are only allowed to use up to 40 hours per week in leave a week. We are scheduled various shifts 48-56-64-72-96 hours. If we want to use our leave, allow us to use what we were scheduled for.

• If you have over 160 hours of annual leave at the end of the year, the balance is paid out to employee or it gets placed in an account for EMS personnel that need it in an emergency.

• All current temporary employees are Grandfathered in as a Permanent/Regular employee (Positions were never advertised).

• Ambulance Base repairs completed within a timely manner after work orders submitted.

• New uniforms purchased for staff annually (boots, pants x2, shirts x2).

• Staff attend annual recertification trainings.

• Ensure supplies are provided to the staff so ambulances are stocked according to SD DOH EMS regulations.

• $500.00 for EMS week annually for a staff get together and appreciation event. • Money to participate in parade and other PR Events.

• Having our own Policy and Procedure manual that we approve to operate as an EMS agency. The Tribes P&P doesn’t have everything we need.

Council members discussed the situation in an OST Council Meeting Special Session on August 18. Jim Driving Hawk, the Acting Area Director for the Aberdeen IHS office, also joined the discussion. Driving Hawk made it clear that any staff who walked out would face consequences, saying, “Individuals in the healthcare industry do take an oath … and if they fail to uphold their oath, their license can be subject to be removed. Paramedics and EMTs fall in that category. We will hold all of our employees to those standards and if they fail to do those standards we will report them to their boards.” 

Talks moved on to retroceding the ambulance service contract back to IHS, something that was discussed more than a year ago. When asked if services would be diminished if IHS took over, Driving Hawk stated that IHS would “meet or exceed the current services provided” by the OSTAS. He also said that after previous talks of IHS taking the service over, his team researched what it would take to properly run the ambulance service in Pine Ridge. 

IHS concluded they would need 70 to 72 employees to run the EMS program. Currently, OSTAS has 16. Last week, IHS sent two additional ambulances to Pine Ridge in case of a walk-out—one from Eagle Butte and one from Belcourt. Normally, OSTAS only has two ambulances to cover their entire service area, which is over 2,000 square miles. In comparison, Rapid City has 6 ambulances and 44 employees on every shift to cover an area of less than 60 square miles. While the population in Rapid City is larger than Pine Ridge, homes are very spread out on the reservation making it a constant struggle for OSTAS to get to everyone who needs help.

The vast reservation geography has not been the only problem for OSTAS. Low pay and long hours have been a problem for years. The starting wage for an OSTAS EMT is $8.89 per hour, while the average starting wage for the same job in Rapid City is nearly $18 per hour. OSTAS workers have also mentioned their long hours—some working 70 to 90 hours per shift. Rapid City EMTs work 24 hour shifts with 48 hours off.

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