By Sen. John Thune
My goal as an elected member of Congress is to deliver to you the most efficient, effective, and accountable federal government possible. Accountability is a hallmark of our democracy, and without it, the American people would rightfully lose faith in their elected representatives and our system of government. I have an extremely high standard when it comes to accountability, which is why I take seriously my responsibility of holding the executive branch and its agencies and employees accountable for their actions. While it’s often the bad decisions or overreaching regulations that make the headlines, sometimes it’s the lack of action or turning a blind eye that can have the most devastating result.
By now, you may have read the shocking reports of conditions at Indian Health Service (IHS) facilities throughout the Great Plains area. Dirty and unsanitary equipment, patients being prematurely discharged from the hospital, and babies being born on bathroom floors. Each of these would be shocking enough on its own, but taken together, along with the litany of previously known failures at IHS facilities, they paint a pretty bleak picture of the care our tribal citizens are receiving and the astonishing lack of commitment by IHS officials to delivering the care these citizens deserve.
While systemic failures at IHS aren’t new, the cases described in these recently released reports are unacceptable. As far back as 2010, the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs uncovered similar instances of negligence and a breach of trust between IHS leaders and the patients they were supposed to serve. These failures, which were well documented, required attention that IHS bureaucrats unfortunately denied for years.
Last December, when the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) notified me of the new allegations, I immediately took action and demanded answers from IHS and HHS. At the time, we were informed that a majority of these issues had been addressed and resolved, but the rosy explanation didn’t match reality. Hours later, we were told that because of the severe problems at the Rosebud Hospital, its emergency department was no longer allowed to accept patients, forcing them to be diverted to nearby facilities.
I recently participated in an important oversight hearing on Capitol Hill that examined these systemic failures. One thing became abundantly clear: a pervasive lack of accountability has seeped into nearly every facet of IHS, and it is past time for us to take meaningful action to correct the root cause of these problems. That doesn’t mean we should throw more federal money at the issue or play musical chairs with IHS employees. We need a committed, willing partner at IHS who takes these issues as seriously as I do. One way or another, on behalf of the tribal citizens who depend on IHS, I intend to get to the bottom of this.