South Dakota congressional delegation seeks answers about new Indian Health Services system agreements

U.S. Rep. Kristi Noem (R-SD) and U.S. Sens. John Thune (R-SD) and Mike Rounds (R-SD) joined Chairman of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee John Barrasso (R-WY) on Monday in seeking information about new Indian Health Services (IHS) system agreements.

In a letter to Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Sylvia Burwell, the lawmakers requested information about recent system improvement agreements that were executed by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) and IHS.

“During a recent briefing for congressional staff, the acting director of the IHS presented a system improvement agreement, which we understand is intended to improve the quality of care at IHS facilities in the Great Plains Area,” the legislators wrote. “We want to be helpful in this endeavor, but must also ensure that this approach is viable and responsive to the needs of impacted tribes. Unfortunately, during (a) recent briefing, more questions were raised than answered.”

The legislators asked Burwell to provide the legal authority and legal opinion that IHS relied on to implement the Rosebud system improvement agreement, and what the estimated costs are to execute the agreement.

“As (Burwell knows), workforce recruitment and retention has been a significant challenge for IHS in the Great Plains area and nationally, yet the system improvement agreements appear to provide little information about how the IHS plans to improve staff recruitment and retention,” the lawmakers wrote. “The new system improvement plan requires the IHS to ‘identify needs, barriers, and potential resources and actions to design and implement an effective long term workforce development strategy.’”

The legislators asked Burwell to explain workforce-related barriers that were identified by IHS and to explain the administration’s strategy for staff recruitment and retention.

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