Noem testifying on IHS bill

Rep. Kristi Noem testified before a House subcommittee Wednesday in support of her bill to improve the recruitment and retention of Indian Health Service (IHS) employees and restore accountability in the agency.

The Restoring Accountability in the Indian Health Service Act of 2017 (HR 2662) seeks to amend the Indian Health Care Improvement Act by establishing a system for physicians, dentists, nurses and other health care professionals that provides pay parity and relocation costs. It would also establish a centralized credentialing system for licensed health care professionals who seek to provide services at any IHS unit and require that IHS regularly reports on its improvement progress.

SDAHO supports Noem’s bill (see letter), saying the provisions will provide much need improvements to a broken system of care.

Noem, testifying before the Committee on Natural Resources, Subcommittee on Indian, Insular and Alaska Native Affairs, said Congress has increased IHS’s funding over the years, but the agency has not seen improvements and the situation has gotten worse.

“The Great Plains District has been a disaster,” Noem said. “We’ve had third-world care being delivered there.”

Rear Admiral Chris Buchanan, IHS’s deputy director, said the agency in November 2016 launched a quality framework and implementation plan to strengthen the quality of care at its facilities. IHS, he said, has made substantial progress in addressing challenges to improve patient experience and outcomes.

Buchanan, an enrolled member of the Seminole Nation of Oklahoma, said IHS will pilot a new credentialing system in four IHS areas in July and implement the program across the rest of IHS by the end of 2017.

William Bear Shield, chairman of the Rosebud Sioux Tribal Health Board, said in testimony that IHS needs a new permanent director who must be given the given authority to rebuild the agency, and Native American health should also earn a deputy secretary level position at the Department of Health & Human Services (HHS).

Bear Shield said the current structure, systems and management of IHS are outdated, broken and cannot be fixed.

“It has reached a point where only adding tools and responsibilities will not help,” Bear Shield said. “IHS must be set aside and be completely rebuilt from the ground up.”

Subcommittee Chairman Rep. Doug LaMalfa, R-California, said the bill will not fix everything with IHS, but it is a step in the right direction for Indian Country.

Noem told the committee that her bill is an updated version of one she introduced last session, and she’s been working with Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyoming, to introduce a duplicate bill in the Senate.

She noted that senior staff from HHS are traveling to South Dakota this week to visit the IHS hospital on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation.