WASHINGTON – The Senate Indian Affairs Committee is continuing to investigate alleged regional mismanagement at the Indian Health Service.
Details of the investigation were aired at a meeting of the committee June 30 where senators agreed to use subpoenas to get information from the agency if necessary.
Senate leaders said the investigation centers on the Aberdeen area and the Quentin N. Burdick Memorial Hospital, located on the Turtle Mountain Chippewa Reservation in North Dakota.
Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., chairman of the committee, said leadership problems and management issues have contributed to an interruption of care of 270 days over the last three years.
“This has been a chronic problem and we’re not just going to sit back and watch it anymore without being active.”
At the same time, he said there are “some great employees, doing really important work in the Aberdeen area and the entire Indian health system.
“We are all thankful for their dedication. However, over the past four years we have been aware of and attempted to force the IHS to deal with very serious cases of mismanagement, malfeasance, retaliation against whistleblowers as well as potential criminal behavior in the Aberdeen area. Still, our efforts haven’t resulted in the changes that are necessary.”
Dorgan said he was prepared to give the IHS until July 28 to produce the documents he has been requesting.
“Hopefully, we won’t have to issue the subpoena and the Indian Health Service will comply with your document request,” said Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., the vice chairman of the committee.
Yvette Roubideaux, IHS director, has been cooperating with the investigation, Dorgan said, adding that she has begun her own probe. Mismanagement at the agency had long been a problem before her tenure began, and senators have asked her to work hard to clean up the agency.
Some tribal leaders have welcomed the scrutiny, saying they believe wrongdoing has been committed at area health facilities.
“Some of this stuff has been going on for years and years and years,” Michael Jandreau, chairman of the Lower Brule Sioux Tribe of South Dakota, told local press. “Hopefully, if there is some serious criminal behavior, it will get tended to; and if not, it will clear up the perception.”
“The problems there are such that Sen. Dorgan thinks we need to determine whether it is a problem with mismanagement at that facility or whether it is a problem that is rooted even deeper in the Aberdeen region,” SCIA spokesperson Barry Piatt told the Associated Press. “He will be looking at the whole region.”