HHS secretary visits tribal communities in SD

By Kristi Eaton
Sioux Falls, South Dakota (AP) August 2012

Despite health challenges facing Native Americans living in South Dakota, there are many positive initiatives taking place on the reservations to combat disparities, Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius said.

Sebelius’ comments followed a tour of several different programs at schools and clinics on the Rosebud and Pine Ridge reservations. She is making a two-day trip to South Dakota’s Indian country, including a visit to the Cheyenne River reservation.

“While there certainly are serious challenges and ones we are working with the tribal leaders to address and pay attention to, I think there are also encouraging signs of innovative programs that can have a huge beneficial impact on Native Americans,” Sebelius said by phone.

Native Americans in South Dakota have higher rates of some chronic diseases and shorter life spans than non-Native Americans.

Sebelius pointed to the IHS hospital in Rosebud that has been designated as “baby friendly” as a positive sign. The designation means the hospital is focusing on unique baby delivery methods and promoting breast feeding.

Sebelius met with a couple of mothers who had recently given birth, and the secretary said she was impressed by the level of care. It was similar to what her daughter-in-law received when she gave birth 10 days ago, she said.

“The kind of care that is being described here at Rosebud, the kind of training, the kind of materials they are using is exactly what she (her daughter-in-law) had at Tufts (University) in Boston,” she said.

Sebelius also toured an equine therapy program at Sinte Gleska University while on Rosebud.

Sebelius visited Red Cloud Indian School in Pine Ridge where she visited with high school students.

Alfred Walking Bull, spokesman for the Rosebud Sioux Tribe, said it’s important for federal officials to visit Native American communities and see what is going on.

“It allows us to showcase what we do and keeps them informed. This is what we’re doing, we’re trying to make progress and rebuild our identity,” Walking Bull said.