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ROSEBUD IHS HOSPITAL LOSES CLASSIFIED PATIENT DATA; DIRECTOR LOSES JOB

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By Gregg Bear

ROSEBUD — For weeks, Rosebud IHS Hospital had been in damage-control mode following what amounted to the negligent release of confidential patient data, which led to the subsequent firing of its service unit director.

The hospital has been undergoing turmoil ever since rumors escalated that the Rosebud Sioux Tribe was planning to initiate a class-action lawsuit, stemming from years of complaints from Indian patients.

On May 30, it was discovered that a file folder containing protected patient information, including veterans particulars, from Rosebud Hospital, was inadvertently left by an employee in a public area in Rapid City, according to Kella With Horn, with Indian Health Service in Aberdeen.

The sensitive patient data was taken to a public conference between VA and IHS officials. The Rosebud Hospital employee reportedly left the material in a public restroom. The unnamed woman was carrying a folder containing the names of Indian veterans, their social security numbers, VA eligibility, and other personal information.

Rosebud IHS had set up the meeting to see if the VA would guarantee payment for health care for Indian veterans if they chose to use Rosebud Hospital instead of making long road trips to VA hospitals in Hot Springs or Meade, both located on the extreme western side of the state.

Rosebud IHS often sends patients to off-reservation hospitals because of its inability to handle trauma patients or diagnose or treat most other illnesses.

Despite being obligated by century-old treaties, Rosebud Hospital, through its contract health services, has been unable to pay for patients’ care at facilities where it sends patients—even after promising to do so—and saddling already impoverished Indian patients with thousands of dollars in health care costs.

IHS’ failure to pay these costs has been due in large part to poor budgeting at its headquarters in Aberdeen and lack of funding from Congress, according to people familiar with the issue.

After the Iraq and Afghanistan invasions, VA hospitals were overrun by thousands of unanticipated new veterans suffering battlefield injuries, leading to a prodigious backlog of patients who were not being served, which had also become a problem after the Vietnam Conflict in 1975, but never fixed.

The latest crisis eventually led to VA Secretary Eric Shinseki resigning last month under immense political pressure from the right.

It was unclear at press time whether an agreement between Rosebud IHS and the VA was ever reached. Any agreement would necessarily have to include paying hospital bills whenever Indian veterans are transferred. The Rosebud facility is so inadequate that it cannot even set broken limbs or deliver babies, requiring the transfer of patients to more expensive settings.

Nearly two months after discovering the mistake in Rapid City, IHS issued a July 16 letter to all Indian veterans on the Rosebud Reservation, notifying them that their confidential health information may have been compromised when they were left unattended by the IHS employee.

“We understand this may pose an inconvenience to you,” said Ron Cornelius, IHS Aberdeen area director, in a letter to Indian veterans. “We sincerely apologize and regret that this situation has occurred. Indian Health Service is committed to providing quality care, including protecting your personal information and we want to assure you that we have policies and procedures in place to protect your privacy.”

IHS is offering Rosebud Reservation veterans free monitoring services for one year by Experian, a credit monitoring and reporting service, to screen for identity theft, fraud, and misuse of credit data, just in case protected material got into the wrong hands when the Rosebud IHS employee forgot her folder in the restroom.

Ongoing turmoil at Rosebud IHS Hospital includes a recent fistfight between two doctors at the facility. One doctor had been telling patients that the medical director was a “rampant dictator,” and that he was fed up with the way he was being treated. His complaints to administration went unheeded, he said.

Dr. Craig Maskil, who abruptly resigned after starting the fight, is reportedly under federal indictment for work place violence and his medical license has been revoked, sources said.

Following the release of confidential information in Rapid City, Ron Valandra, health administrator for the tribe, and President Cyril Scott, presented a petition resolution calling for the firing of Rosebud Hospital’s administrator Dr. Sophie Two Hawk.

On learning that she was being ousted by the tribe, Dr. Two Hawk reportedly cleaned out her desk and departed, leaving no one qualified to take over, except for Charli Archambault, who was transferred there by the tribe a couple of months ago. Hearing of Two Hawk’s hurried departure, Aberdeen IHS hastily dispatched a temporary service unit director to oversee the hospital for the time being, sources said.

Although Archambault’s name was on the petition resolution for employment termination, Two Hawk was the primary target. In the aftermath, Archambault’s job will probably be preserved, according to people familiar with the situation.

Among complaints against Dr. Two Hawk’s administration by some hospital staff and higher-ups was her apparent “lack of understanding of the inner workings of the hospital or the people who worked there”; nor did she try to fix systemic problems as they arose or try to find someone who could; suggestions and motions from RST Council in meetings were apparently ignored; pharmacy held greater authority over the medical department and its providers, creating friction when prescriptions were denied or ignored, sources recalled.

Rosebud’s quest for better health care may follow the court-filing of the class-action lawsuit and its eventual conclusion, but everyone knows that could be several years away.

Meanwhile, those health professionals who do care about people of Rosebud, report to work everyday and try to do their best under a system that fell apart long ago.

Comments

I have a friend who suffered a heart attack and was sent to Rapid City Regional Hospital, where a "defibrillator pacer" was put in his heart. His heart was severely damaged to the point where he has only 30% left. The battery in his pacer was to be checked and recharged every three years. Now, it's going on four years, and Rosebud IHS Hospital has denied him four times to send him back to Rapid City to have his pacer recharged. For him, it has become a matter of life and death, but Rosebud IHS still refuses to send him. His doctor in Rapid City told him that, without the procedure, he is a walking time bomb! What else can he do in this situation? No money and no health insurance, and he can't do this on his own. What happened to the treaty that grants continuing healthcare for our people? Don't we Indians matter anymore?

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