New leader of Indian Health Service to testify about budget request

Mary Smith of the Indian Health Service speaks at the National Congress of American Indians executive council winter session in Washington, D.C., on February 23, 2016. Photo by NCAI / Twitter

The new leader of the Indian Health Service will testify about the agency's fiscal year 2017 budget request on Wednesday.

The appearance by Mary Smith, a member of the Cherokee Nation, isn't her first on Capitol Hill. But it will be her first as the principal deputy and the acting director of an agency that has been hit with criticism for management and service failures in Great Plains Area, an area that has seen two facilities lose a critical source of funding. A third is also being threatened.

Sen. Tom Udall (D-New Mexico), the top Democrat on the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies plans to question Smith about those quality of care issues, according to his office. The emergency room at the Rosebud Hospital in South Dakota has been "diverted" -- a term the IHS uses for a temporary or extended closure.

"The conditions recently reported at facilities in the Great Plains region are horrific and unacceptable," Udall said at a Senate Indian Affairs Committee hearing last month. He pointed out that the Crownpoint Health Care Facility on the New Mexico portion of the Navajo Nation was subjected to a similar diversion for one month last summer.

YouTube: At Hearing, Tom Raises Concerns about Public Health Crisis in Gallup

According to his office, Udall also plans to question Smith about the Na’nizhoozhi Center Inc., a detoxification facility in Gallup, a city near the Navajo Nation border. Over the last two winters, 25 people -- all of them Native Americans -- died from alcohol-related incidents, including exposure to cold temperatures.

"Since the facility serves such a large Native population, IHS needs to be part of the team working with local officials and other stakeholders to solve this public health crisis," Udall said.

President Barack Obama has requested a record $6.6 billion for the IHS. If the amount is accepted by Congress, the IHS budget will have grown 53 percent since Obama came on board.

Yet Udall notes that the IHS only spends $3,107 per capita for patient -- far below the national average of $8,097 per person and far below the $7,036 per patient in the Department of Veterans Affairs system.

The hearing takes place at 10am in Room 124 of the Dirksen Senate Office Building.

Committee Notice:
Hearing to Review the FY17 Indian Health Service Budget Request (March 9, 2016)

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