By Carson Walker -- Associated Press
PINE RIDGE, S.D. (AP) - People seeking medical help at the Pine Ridge IHS hospital should spend less time waiting and have access to more services when a new wing opens in June.
Representatives from several agencies attended the dedication May 22 for the additional 26,000 square feet on the east side of the 110,000-square-foot building.
''The main gist is to improve outpatient operations,'' said Bill Pourier, the hospital's CEO.
''We're just too congested.''
The $7 million project was funded by setting aside federal money over a number of years, he said.
Housed in the addition will be OB/GYN services, podiatry, optometry, and ear, nose and throat, Pourier said. Space used for those specialties in the existing hospital will be converted into more space for the emergency room and some other services, which will reduce patient wait times, he said.
The added room also will allow orthopedic and heart doctors to regularly visit and care for patients in Pine Ridge instead of sending them elsewhere, which will save health care money, Pourier said.
The Pine Ridge hospital and clinics in Kyle and Wanblee serve roughly 50,000 tribal members. About 450 people work in the IHS system, 320 of them in Pine Ridge.
Kathy Janis, an Oglala Sioux Tribal Council member and chair of the tribe's Health and Human Services Committee, said Pourier dreamed the project and made it a reality.
''He visualized this big addition here,'' she said. ''We had a hard time getting this facility in place.''
''It's a 'we' thing and that's what this is all about,'' Pourier said at the dedication.
More patient rooms and an MRI are next on the wish list, he said.
Cecelia Fire Thunder, a formal tribal president, said IHS should focus more funding on children because most of the diseases plaguing American Indians could be prevented if children are taught about healthy living when they're young.
The breakdown should be 20 percent spent on adults and 80 percent on children, she said.
''IHS spends so much of its dollars on big people who make bad choices,'' Fire Thunder said. ''Diabetes is 100 percent preventable. Diabetes is about lifestyle. It's about diet.''
Several speakers urged the U.S. House of Representatives to pass the Indian Health Care Improvement Act, which the Senate already has done.
Copyright 2008 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.