Newspaper article Charleston Gazette Mail

IHS Supports Goals of Bill Addressing Reservation Hospitals

Newspaper article Charleston Gazette Mail

IHS Supports Goals of Bill Addressing Reservation Hospitals

Article excerpt

RAPID CITY, S.D. - The head of the federal agency responsible for providing health care to Native Americans believes legislation recently introduced in the U.S. Senate would help fix severe shortcomings at its hospitals nationwide. Mary Smith, principal deputy director of the Indian Health Service, spoke with The Associated Press ahead of a U.S. Senate committee hearing that began Friday in South Dakota where the proposed legislation is being discussed. The measure comes as the IHS implements a series of reforms, some aimed at addressing severe quality-of-care deficiencies that health inspectors recently found at hospitals on Native American reservations in the Great Plains.

"We are very supportive of the efforts by the senators on the Indian Affairs Committee to help address some of the challenges we have, Smith said Thursday evening, speaking for the first time about the bill introduced in May. "(The bill) addresses issues about accountability, and it addresses issues about quality. I think we share the same goals to improve all those things at IHS with the Senate.

The bill, introduced by Republican U.S. Sens. John Thune of South Dakota and John Barrasso of Wyoming, aims to increase transparency and accountability at the IHS, and improve recruiting and retention practices at the often remote hospitals - issues the agency has struggled with for several years.

Specifically, the bill would expand the IHS' authority to remove and discipline problem employees, require tribal consultation when hiring hospital leadership, and provide flexibility to create competitive pay scales and offer temporary housing assistance for medical professionals. The legislation also would ensure that the inspector general of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, which oversees IHS, investigates patient deaths in which the IHS may have played a role. …

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