Feds Privatize Troubled Reservation ERs

ROSEBUD, S.D. (CN) — The Indian Health Service will try to improve hospital services on three reservations by privatizing the management of their emergency rooms.
     The federal government awarded a one-year contract to Arizona-based AB Staffing Services to provide medical staff and oversight of the Rosebud Sioux Reservation’s emergency room, which has been closed since December due to violations of Medicare healthcare standards. AB Staffing will also take over two other troubled emergency rooms, on the Pine Ridge, and Winnebago, Neb., reservations.
     The grant has a ceiling of $60 million over 5 years, with a base period of one year, renewable four times, the HIS said in a statement announcing the changes.
     The IHS did not say when the Rosebud emergency room will re-open.
     “IHS remains committed to reopening the emergency department at Rosebud IHS Hospital as soon as it is safe to do so,” IHS spokeswoman Britt Ehrhardt said in an interview.
     Ehrhardt said the private contract will provide “staffing, operations support and management services for the emergency department at Rosebud IHS Hospital. Urgent care services and other inpatient and outpatient hospital services at Rosebud IHS Hospital also remain available for the community.”
     Safety protocols that must be in place before the emergency room reopens include an infection control program and a process for handling medical records, according to the Systems Improvement Agreement between IHS and AB Staffing.
     Staff at the emergency rooms will stay put, to provide additional services. For example, the Pine Ridge Hospital will offer Saturday clinic hours for the first time.
     AB Staffing Solutions calls itself the “leading provider of healthcare personnel at government and commercial medical facilities across the country.”
     Company president Evan Burks said in an interview: “We understand that communities in Indian Country need access to high-quality emergency department services, and we are honored with this opportunity to work toward that goal. AB Staffing Solutions is committed to staffing and managing the Emergency Departments for these three hospitals with the goal of maintaining critical access to quality ED services on a 24/7/365 basis.”
     This is not the first time the government has called on AB Staffing for help. In December last year, the company won an $8 million contract to provide physician services at the Fort Yates IHS-Healthcare Facility in North Dakota, according to Bloomberg News.
     The new contract is the first one that will not only bring in outside staffing, but also management. The IHS said AB Staffing will provide physicians as directors of the emergency departments.
     Rosebud Sioux Councilman William Bear Shield told The Associated Press he would have preferred that the contract go to healthcare providers already in South Dakota, such as Sanford or Avera.
     “If it would have been any one of those two, I would have said, ‘Great. I feel comfortable,'” he said. “But we are going to have to see what this AB Staffing Solutions is about. We are concerned, that’s for sure.”
     The Rosebud Sioux Tribe sued HIS in April, claiming its chronic underfunding caused staffing shortages and other deficiencies that led to the shuttering of the emergency department.
     The tribe’s attorney Timothy Purdon, with Robins Kaplan, could not be reached immediately for comment by email or phone.
     Treaties obligate the federal government to provide medical services for tribal members on reservations.

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