SACRAMENTO, Calif. - For nearly 35 years the Sacramento Urban Indian Health
Project, Inc. sat in a prominent building along one of the main
thoroughfares of California's capital city. The health center alone served
some 2,000 patients. Countless others utilized the dental, mental health
and substance abuse programs housed there.
On Oct. 26 the organization, known colloquially as SUIHPI suddenly closed
its doors. That action has prompted some former employees to charge the
organization's leadership with fiscal malfeasance and possibly illegal
The decline at the non-profit organization was especially stunning since it
had operated in the black as recently as 2001.
One of the employees making charges, Sean Benedict, who worked with the
substance abuse and mental health programs, places direct blame for the
organization's steep decline on decisions made by Executive Director Dale
Campbell who was hired in 2001. SUIHPI's demise and Campbell's hiring were
not coincidence according to Campbell.
"I believe that there was a direct link between [SUIHPI] and the policies
instituted by the executive director," Benedict said.
Benedict contends that the entire mess began after a 2002 Board of
Directors election. The board elected that year hired Campbell who
immediately began making questionable decisions at the organization.
Among the decisions made by Campbell, who according to all sources is
non-Indian, was to hire an all-Indian staff, at the behest of the board,
whether they were qualified for duties or not. This included the promotion
of a secretary to manage the medical staff, which is against the law in
California as one of the requirements for the person holding that position
is that he or she be a medical doctor.
Backing this charge is Dr. Patricia Samuelson who was let go during the
organizational purge. She alleged when she told Campbell that the move was
illegal he accused Samuelson, who has some Indian ancestry, of "being a
Benedict, who is non-Indian, claims that he was eventually let go and his
position farmed out to another individual. Benedict later learned that this
individual was being paid $120 per hour. Though Benedict was a salaried
employee, his earnings at the job worked out to $24 per hour.
According to Benedict, Samuelson and another source familiar with the
situation, Campbell also fired another doctor for informing patients that
the clinic was closing and to seek medical help elsewhere. Though requests
for confirmation from this doctor were not returned by press time, this was
corroborated by one of the doctor's close friends.
Campbell was not able to be located for this story and his current
whereabouts are unknown. However, rumor has it that he has left Sacramento.
"After what happened [at SUIHPI] I don't think that he wants to show his
face around here," said one source familiar with the situation who asked
not to be named.
One of Campbell's former employers, who also asked to not be named, claims
that too much is being hung on Campbell. The source claimed that Campbell
was an erratic employee who often "promised much more than he could
deliver" and that the source was once the victim of an "irrational personal
attack" by Campbell, but much of the blame rests with the SUIHPI Board of
"I'm sure that [Campbell] has some of the responsibility," said the former
employer who is familiar with the SUIHPI situation, "but it is my
understanding that the board was more concerned with their meetings than
with providing medical care to patients."
Benedict and Samuelson both claim that board meetings were held in secret
and employees were often lied to about whether a board meeting was actually
taking place. Samuelson charged the board with "inadequate fiduciary
responsibility" and Benedict said blame for the hiring of unqualified staff
rests with the board's all-Indian policy.
Urban Indian health clinics are often likened to being the "red-headed
stepchild" of Indian health organizations. While 61 percent of America's
Indian population resides in urban areas, clinics that serve these areas
often have far less funding than tribally-based health clinics.
Whoever is to blame, and for whatever the specific charges of the demise,
plans are under way to have the Oakland-based nonprofit Native American
Health Center run the Sacramento center for a while. Native American Health
Center Executive Director Martin Waukazoo is quick to point out that the
move is not a takeover by his organization.
"I feel very strongly about keeping local control," said Waukazoo, who
pledged that his organization will meet with Sacramento community members
and pick out individuals that they believe would be best suited for a new
board and an eventual return of local control.
"The important thing is that there is a health clinic for people to go to
in Sacramento," Waukazoo said.
Waukazoo is also looking into whether his organization could continue to
receive funding for other programs such as the substance abuse and mental
Legal hurdles also face the Native American Health Center from assuming
SUIHPI's responsibilities, namely over patient's records. Samuelson, who
now works at another Sacramento-area health clinic said that several former
SUIHPI patients have followed her to her new place of practice and she has
had difficulty in obtaining records of her former patients.
This also presents a problem for the Native American Health Center because
of legal questions surrounding the transference of these records to a new
operating organization. In fact it is against the law to do so and Waukazoo
said that his organization is in the process of sorting it out.
If all goes well and the Native American Health Center is successful in
overcoming the financial and legal problems, Waukazoo said the earliest the
clinic could potentially be seeing patients again is March of next year.