The Latest on the Native American Healthcare Issues in Dakota

The Native American population in South Dakota is facing a significant health care crisis. Click here for more.

South Dakota: Native American Health Care Crisis

Old tribal inhabitants of South Dakota were offered a treaty. In exchange for their tribal land and its resources, they were guaranteed homes, educational system, and health-related care. In the end, they agreed to these terms under pressure from the white settlers.

From early on, their health-care program was inadequately funded and mostly focused on preventing infectious diseases from spreading, making it evident that the government didn’t uphold its part of the treaty.

Assimilation and Its Health Consequences

BIA (The Bureau of Indian Affairs) appointed the first medical staff to Native Americans. They were not paid enough, and the service they provided was limited due to finite funds, reported a Native American expert, David H. DeJong. The westward expansion made it even worse.

Dire health consequences came with the decision to push the tribes into reservations. They couldn’t hunt or acquire ingredients for medicine anymore. Additionally, traditional diets were hard to access. Furthermore, modern-day consequences existed in the form of higher rates of cancer, diabetes, and cardiovascular diseases among the Native American people. A long legacy of physical, sexual, and emotional abuse, as well as lasting historical trauma among their children, were all consequences of the BIA boarding schools’ moves to enforce assimilation.

The Chair, Donald Warne, of the Department of Public Health, said that the Congress breached the contract and that they knowingly didn’t fund IHS.

The AIM (American Indian Movement) during the ’60s and the ’70s helped in shifting the policy’s focus towards tribes’ self-determination. It meant, for the tribes, that they could enter the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services contracts to administer and plan their program options, such as health care. Ever since then, multiple tribes separated themselves from the IHS and have taken over their own care programs. Tribes have administered a total of sixty percent of IHS’ appropriation from the Congress through these contracts. However, not all were happy to go out on their own. Oglala Sioux and the Rosebud Sioux tribes have considered moving their hospital to the more rural parts of South Dakota. Unfortunately, they didn’t sustain the necessary support for the move.

Endangered Patients

Conditions at the hospitals didn’t appear to have improved even after two years. The Immediate Jeopardy status was put on the Rosebud hospital. Additionally, the Federal inspection released a detailed report of oversights that put patients in harm’s way. Several incidents occurred — a young girl’s suicide attempt and the death of a man due to a heart attack after he was pepper-sprayed by the hospital guards. In addition, a follow-up review outlined more problems — after exposure to hospital mold, patients and the medical staff became sick and risked spreading infection when they didn’t correctly sterilize blood sugar monitors.

The hospital barely evaded losing funding by altering these deficiencies, according to the reports of the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services.

The IHS hospital, appointed to the Oglala Sioux tribe, lost plenty of assets after the inspections there revealed misdiagnoses and improper patient medical care.

James Driving Hawk, from Great Plains Area IHS, the acting director, noted that new acting teams were put in place at the Rosebud and Pine Ridge hospitals.

He stated that the Pine Ridge hospital was trying to meet the set standards by CMS to regain its ability to bill to Medicare. Driving Hawk also said that in order to be 100 percent compliant, they needed to address some things.

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