SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (AP) - The top leader on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation told tribal members Tuesday that he is thankful for federal inspections that have uncovered serious quality-of care-deficiencies at a government-run hospital serving the community.
Oglala Sioux Tribe President John Yellow Bird Steele made the remarks during a radio address just days after the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services ordered the facility’s administrators to either agree to make substantial changes or lose its Medicare and Medicaid funding. The ultimatum came after the agency’s inspectors found deficiencies in the hospital’s emergency department.
“They started the whole ball rolling,” Steele said of the agency. “I thank them. I thank Medicare because they’re the ones that brought it to light. … I thank them so much because they are the ones that are making (Indian Health Service) change the quality of health care to you, the Oglala Oyate.”
The 45-bed hospital on Pine Ridge is administered by the Indian Health Service, which provides free health care to enrolled members of Native American tribes as part of U.S. treaty obligations. The agency has being under scrutiny in recent months due to findings of woefully inadequate service at some of the facilities.
The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services on Friday gave the Pine Ridge hospital until April 29 to reach an agreement to enter a last-chance remediation program. Without an agreement, the facility won’t be allowed to bill the government for services provided to Medicare- and Medicaid-eligible patients after May 16.
The warning came after four inspections, the most recent of which was completed on Feb. 25. Inspectors looking at records of 26 patients found that six of them had not received appropriate medical screening examinations. Among the cases reviewed was that of a woman who was discharged despite having a high blood pressure of 193/90 and a recent history of a stroke.
The head of the IHS, Mary Smith, met with tribal leaders, including Steele, last week and promised swift and long-lasting reforms. Smith, who has been on the job for just over a month, also visited some hospitals.
During his address on KILI Radio in the reservation’s community of Porcupine, Steele said he is confident of IHS’ new leadership.
“We will get better health care,” Steele said. He went on to say that tribal leaders “are going to continue to monitor it with (U.S.) Sen. (John) Thune. We are going to get you better health care so there will be less suffering and people’s lives will be saved.”
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