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Nebraska Tribes Honored for Advocacy Against IHS Mismanagement, Inadequate Care

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The Omaha and Winnebago Tribes were recently honored for their efforts to correct injustices and deficiencies of the Indian Health Services (IHS).

The Nebraska-based tribes have been demanding accountability of the IHS for mismanagement of the Omaha/Winnebago Indian Health Services Hospital for years. In a joint resolution passed in August, the tribes charged the IHS with "callous disregard for the lives, health and safety of the members of the Omaha and Winnebago Tribes."

In recognition of the tribes' advocacy, the board of directors of the National Indian Health Board bestowed the tribes with the 2015 National Impact Award on September 23. The award honors an individual organization whose work has made an impact on American Indian/Alaska Native health care on a national level.

The tribes received the award "for their courage to stand up for their people's health in the fight to right egregious wrongs experienced at their IHS hospital. Further, their actions and advocacy serves as a beacon of hope and light on the path for other tribes experiencing similar challenges," the NIHB said in a press release.

The Service Award was presented to the tribes at an awards ceremony held during NIHB's 32nd Annual Consumer Conference, hosted September 21-24 in Washington, D.C.

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"I'm grateful that the NIHB recognized the joint concern and advocacy by our tribes," said Omaha Tribal Chairman Vernon Miller. "The tribes intend to remain tenacious in their demand that Indian Health Service uphold the Federal government's treaty obligations and trust responsibility to provide adequate care to our tribal members."

Neglect and inadequate care of patients at the Omaha/Winnebago IHS Hospital lead to the death of one man this year and caused harm to at least nine other patients randomly selected for review, according to a report done in May by a survey team. Among them was a 28-year-old pregnant woman, who was discharged and instructed to drive to a Sioux City, Iowa, hospital in April when doctors could not find a fetal heart tone.

The tribes have additionally been pressing for IHS to replace leadership at the facility. After mounting pressure, IHS removed the chief executive officer, nursing director, clinical director and administrative officer at the facility. The tribes are still pushing to oust Ron Cornelius, director of the Great Plains Area that includes Nebraska. According to the Winnebago Tribe, Cornelius misguided the tribe to think the hospital would continue to receive Medicare funding while the IHS pursued an administrative appeal. That information was inaccurate, and the Winnebago Service Unit lost its Medicare funding in July.

The tribes additionally contend that officers like Cornelius and chief medical officer Mark Jackson have ignored known problems for many years. In a report released in December 2010, former U.S. Senator Byron Dorgan (D-North Dakota), then-chairman of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, declared the Aberdeen Area of the Indian Health Service (IHS) to be in a “chronic state of crisis.” The investigative report was a culmination of an 18-month investigation by the Senate Indian Affairs Committee. Sen. Dorgan blamed serious management problems and a lack of oversight of the Aberdeen region, which serves 100,000 Native Americans from 18 tribes in the states of North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska and Iowa.

RELATED: Aberdeen IHS in Chronic State of Crisis