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Senate panel investigates Indian health facilities

By Dave Kolpack
Fargo, North Dakota (AP) July 2010

The chairman of the Senate’s Indian Affairs Committee says the group has launched an investigation into Indian Health Service facilities in four states, sparked by a revolving door executives at a North Dakota hospital.

Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., said June 30 that the committee is looking into alleged “mismanagement, malfeasance, retaliation against whistleblowers as well as potential criminal behavior” in the Aberdeen Area of the IHS, which includes North Dakota, South Dakota, Iowa and Nebraska. “I believe this type of mismanagement in the region over a long period of time has negatively affected health care provided to the Native Americans,” Dorgan said in a release. “These problems must be remedied.”

Officials with the Aberdeen Area IHS did not return phone and e-mail messages left Wednesday by The Associated Press.

The investigation centers on the Quentin N. Burdick Memorial Hospital in Belcourt, on North Dakota’s Turtle Mountain Indian Reservation, where there have been five different CEOs in about two years.

“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,” said Barry Piatt, Dorgan’s spokesman. “He will be looking at the whole region.”

Adult patients who need non-emergency care have been sent to other facilities several times in the last three years because of staff shortages, Dorgan said. At one point those patients were diverted for 270 straight days.

A message left Wednesday with Duane Marcellais, acting CEO of the Belcourt hospital, was not returned.

There are 48 IHS facilities in the Aberdeen Area, covering about a dozen Indian reservations and communities. Dorgan said the IHS has had four years to deal with the problem in the region and hasn’t made the necessary changes.

IHS Director Yvette Roubideaux is cooperating with the committee and has launched her own investigation, Dorgan said. The committee set a deadline of July 28 for the IHS to provide information and the Senate committee will use subpoenas if necessary, he said.

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