Report: US Native American health agency at crossroads

Friday, August 30, 2019

FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. (AP) — Emergency rooms shut down for months. Hospitals put patients at risk for opioid abuse and overdoses. A longtime pediatrician was charged with sexually abusing children.

The federal agency that administers health care for more than 2.5 million Native Americans has long been plagued with problems that have kept it from improving health care delivery. Money, staffing, infrastructure, health disparities and a general lack of accountability all have played a part.

A federal report released Thursday said things won’t get better unless the Indian Health Service takes a serious look at its organizational structure, which the report said fails to adequately track hospital performance and leaves workers uncertain about their roles and responsibilities.

The report by the U.S. Health and Human Services’ Office of Inspector General doesn’t make any formal recommendations but is meant to maintain pressure on the Indian Health Service as it implements a five-year plan to address access to health care, quality, management and operations, Dallas regional inspector Ruth Ann Dorrill said.

“It’s a matter of getting from that page to the direct service delivery and to the patients themselves so they can walk into IHS hospitals and feel like they are consistently and reliably getting high-quality care,” Dorrill said.

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