U.S. Sens. John Thune (R-S.D.) and Mike Rounds (R-S.D.) and U.S. Rep. Kristi Noem (R-S.D.) today met with Dr. Mary Wakefield, acting deputy secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), to discuss the ongoing crisis at Indian Health Service (IHS) facilities across the Great Plains area. The core mission of IHS, which is part of HHS, is to provide quality health care to tribal citizens throughout the country. Thune, Rounds, and Noem are determined to see that the agency refocuses on its mission, especially in South Dakota.
“I want to thank Dr. Wakefield for taking the time to brief the delegation on what her department is doing to correct the problems faced by Great Plains area IHS facilities,” said Thune. “It’s not an easy job, so I appreciate her attention to this urgent matter. I was also glad to hear that she’s reviewed legislation I recently introduced, the IHS Accountability Act of 2016, and she provided some thoughtful feedback. The only way we’re going to solve this crisis is with a coordinated effort, which includes IHS cooperation and transparency, as well as critical feedback from tribal members in South Dakota.”
“IHS has serious financial, structural and administrative problems, and tribal members in the Great Plains Area have been particularly affected by the agency’s shortcomings,” said Rounds. “I thank Acting Deputy Secretary Dr. Mary Wakefield for meeting with us today to discuss this urgent matter. During the meeting, I shared with her my concerns with IHS and urged her to consult with the tribes before implementing any long-term plans to fix the ongoing issues. Additionally, she indicated her willingness to complete an audit of IHS, which is something my office has requested. I will continue to work with Dr. Wakefield, my colleagues and the tribes to address the systemic problems at IHS.”
“Nearly every facet of IHS in the Great Plains Region faces challenges of life-and-death magnitude,” said Noem. “I appreciate the attention that Dr. Wakefield and her colleagues have given to South Dakota IHS facilities in recent months, but I remain concerned that the pace of change is much too slow while the communication with tribal communities and overall transparency is lacking. I’m hopeful we can continue to work together through agency-level changes and legislative reforms to ensure tribal members receive the care their families need.”
Last month, Thune and Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.), chairman of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, introduced the IHS Accountability Act of 2016, comprehensive legislation that would address the systemic failures at IHS by increasing transparency and accountability at the agency. Noem also introduced comprehensive legislation in the House today that offers critical structural changes to how IHS operates, addressing both medical and administrative challenges.
On Friday, June 17, at the request of Thune, the Indian Affairs Committee will hold a field hearing at Central High School in Rapid City, South Dakota, on Thune’s IHS reform bill. Thune, Barrasso, Rounds, and Noem are all expected to participate.