Where is Health Care for the Great Plains?

Rosebud Hospital. Photo from Facebook

Guest Commentary

Published December 26, 2017

As a Rosebud Sioux tribal member, an at-large member of the Rosebud Sioux Tribal Health Board, Navy veteran, and citizen of South Dakota and the United States, I am asking Congress to finish what it started and pass the Indian Health Service Health Care bill and have a confirmation hearing by the Senate Indian Affairs Committee for Robert Weaver as soon as possible. Here is why.

I am disheartened over the lack of leadership within the Indian Health Service (IHS). In December 2015, our emergency room on the Rosebud Indian Reservation was shut down because it could not provide basic health care. In June 2016, we lost our obstetrics and surgical departments. In July 2016 — seven months and nine deaths after the emergency room was closed — IHS contracted emergency services to a non-government organization.

During that time, the Tribe contacted Congress and the media and reported on atrocities created by IHS. With the help of Sen. Thune and Sen. Barrasso, the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs Committee held a hearing in Washington, D.C., and a field hearing in Rapid City. Rep. Noem also held a hearing with the Subcommittee on Indian, Insular and Alaska Native Affairs. Legislation was then introduced in the Senate and the House to improve our health care.

In October of 2017, President Trump actually did the right thing, when he nominated Robert Weaver. Mr. Weaver met with Tribal Council and addressed our needs and saw firsthand the suffering we faced from losing family and friends at the hands of IHS. Mr. Weaver has the support of the Great Plains Tribes and he has received support from tribes independently and through their organizations, such as Coalition of Large Tribes that consists of 13 of the largest tribes in Arizona, Idaho, Montana, New Mexico, North Dakota, South Dakota, Utah, Washington and Wyoming; the Great Plains Tribal Chairman’s Association that consists of 16 tribes in Nebraska, North Dakota and South Dakota; and the Rocky Mountain Tribal Leader Association that consists of 10 tribes in Idaho, Montana and Wyoming; and organizations and individual tribes in Oklahoma, Kansas, Texas and Louisiana.

Oliver J. Semans Sr.

As our tribal citizens continue to die and our health dollars are being misspent, why isn’t the nomination hearing for Mr. Weaver being placed as a priority? It appears to me that the current IHS although they publicly state they don’t get involved in these issues, are involved just behind the scenes. I also find it strange that organizations that receive funding from IHS are unsure of Mr. Weaver even knowing all these tribes support him.

The Rosebud Sioux and the Great Plains Tribes are peace treaty tribes and our health care is a treaty right, but that does not stop IHS from seeking retaliation because we are trying to force them to live up to their obligations.

Besides the poor health care and their mismanagement, I believe they have chosen to ignore consultation with us intentionally. Here are examples of their actions to support my views:

After the Tribe made an issue of Tribal Emergency Medicine (TEM) coming to Rosebud, because John Shufeldt, who is the chief executive officer of TEM’s and whose last company committed Medicare and Medicare fraud, IHS leadership decided to replace the Rosebud emergency room contract and award it to John Shufeldt. (don’t let the name fool you, not one Native owns the business).

Shufeldt founded NextCare, an Arizona-based company, in 1993. NextCare has agreed in the past to pay $10 million to settle federal and state allegations for submitting false claims to Medicare, TRICARE and the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program, as well as Medicaid programs in Colorado, Virginia, Texas, North Carolina and Arizona.

Also, IHS has decided to close down the Sioux San Hospital and build a new clinic despite the oppositions of the Tribes wanting the new facility to be a hospital. Knowing this we went back to the table with IHS to see if we could work on the design and construction of the new proposed clinic in-order to create jobs for Tribal members and for months IHS meet with Tribes discussing how this could be done.

Tribes were given the impression that IHS would work with them to create these jobs and out of nowhere the Tribes discovered that IHS On December 14th, 2017 advertised a Request for Proposal, Sources Sought on the Design and construction of the new Sioux San Facility, without any consultation and/or even a hint this was being done. To top it off, the request was only let out for 3 weeks and closed on January 8th, 2017. I find it strange that a 100 plus million-dollar project was advertised for only 3 weeks during the Christmas and New Year’s holiday.

Two things come to mind first, they more then likely already have a firm in mind and second, they want to get the money spent before Mr. Weaver nomination is confirmed because IHS, realizes Mr. Weaver will consult with the Tribes before taking such drastic action without Tribal input.

It is plain to me at least, these actions by IHS are in retaliation because we refuse to let them continue with business as usual.

I have just been informed that the South Dakota Congressional Delegation has been and is pushing forward with the IHS legislation and hope to have it reintroduced during the first week on January 2017.

We still need an immediate nomination hearing for Mr. Weaver because this is a matter of life and death in the Great Plains.

I hope other Tribes will join us in asking their Senators to have the hearing and support Mr. Weavers nomination.

Oliver J. Semans Sr. is the executive director of Four Directions.






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