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Saturday, May 25, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Tribe Sues for ‘Exposure Event’ at Hospital

PHOENIX (CN) - The Indian Health Service waited for 15 months to inform the Quechuan Tribal Council about an "exposure event" at the IHS hospital in Fort Yuma, in which 44 people were exposed to viruses, including HIV and hepatitis B and C, the tribe claims in Federal Court. The tribe blames the oldest hospital in the IHS system for its "failure to clean and sterilize medical instruments in the wound care clinic ... [which] resulted in the potential transmission and spread of blood-borne pathogens and viruses to tribal members."

The Quechan Tribe of the Fort Yuma Indian Reservation sued the Department of Health and Human Services and the Indian Health Service and the bureaucracies' top officials. It says the "exposure event" at the Fort Yuma Service Unit came between October 2008 and June 2009.

The federal government, through treaties and congressional legislation, is responsible for health care on reservations. The Quechuan Tribe says its hospital, the Fort Yuma Service Unit, is in a state of "disrepair and deterioration." The tribe say the Indian Health Service has acknowledged that it needs to repair the facilities, but continues to fail to operate medical services in a "clean, safe, and sanitary condition."

The Fort Yuma-Quechuan Reservation covers 45,000 acres on the Arizona-California-Mexican border. It was established in 1884. The hospital there serves 2,434 tribal members, including members of the smaller Cocopah Tribe, according to the HIS website.

Because of the exposure event and the poor condition of the hospital, "tribal members may choose to forego receiving necessary health care due to the fear of receiving treatment at the Fort Yuma Service Unit," the tribe says in its complaint.

The Quechuans claim the IHS is violating the Indian Health Care Improvement Act by failing to "provide the tribe and its members within the Fort Yuma Indian Reservation with health care facilities and services that meet generally accepted, appropriate, and best available standards of care."

The tribe seeks declaratory judgment that the IHS "has violated and is violating its statutory, legal, fiduciary, and trust duties to the tribe and its members," and a writ of mandamus directing the IHS to comply with its duties to the tribe to provide appropriate levels of care.

The tribe is represented by Frank Jozwiak and Thane Somerville with Morisset, Schlosser & Jozwiak of Seattle.

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