Bipartisan Energy & Commerce leaders request briefing on systemic failures at Indian Health Service hospitals

A still from the 'Predator on the Reservation' television documentary about Dr. Stanley Patrick Weber, an IHS doctor sentenced to more than 18 years in prison for decades-long sexual assault of Native boys. PBS, in collaboration with the Wall Street Journal, investigated what the producers called a “decades-long failure to stop Weber, a government pediatrician, who moved from reservation to reservation despite warnings about his behavior.”(Image: Frontline, pbs.org)

Briefing request comes after investigations by the Wall Street Journal and Frontline PBS, and by the Sioux Falls Argus Leader into Indian Health Service

News Release

Energy and Commerce Republicans

A bipartisan group of Energy and Commerce leaders sent a letter to Indian Health Service (IHS) Acting Director Rear Admiral Michael D. Weahkee March 7 requesting a briefing on reported medical errors and systemic failures at Indian Health Service hospitals, the corrective actions taken to date, and an update on the agency’s strategy to ensure improvements at Indian Health Service facilities nationwide. The request comes after investigations by the Wall Street Journal and Frontline PBS, and by the Sioux Falls Argus Leader into Indian Health Service.

The letter was signed by Energy and Commerce Republican Leader Greg Walden (R-OR), Chairman Frank Pallone, Jr. (D-NJ), Health Subcommittee Republican Leader Michael C. Burgess, M.D. (R-TX), Health Subcommittee Chairwoman Anna G. Eshoo (D-CA), Oversight and Investigations Republican Leader Brett Guthrie (R-KY), Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee Chair Diana DeGette (D-CO), Rep. Markwayne Mullin (R-OK), and Rep. Raul Ruiz, M.D. (D-CA). 

“We have serious concerns about the apparent failure of Indian Health Service to provide quality health care services to the American Indians it serves, in the Great Plains Area and elsewhere,” the committee leaders wrote. “Stopping these deplorable conditions and ensuring the safety and well-being of those who entrust Indian Health Service with their health care needs must be the top priority of your agency. Despite repeated investigations by Congress, and other federal watchdog agencies, these recent press reports indicate that patient care does not seem to be improving at these IHS-operated hospitals. We must find a way forward to protect Indian Health Service patients so that all American Indians and Alaska Natives receive the best care possible.” 

Last month, the Wall Street Journal and Frontline PBS reported that, for more than two decades, Indian Health Service employed a physician who sexually abused children who were his patients, and that Indian Health Service repeatedly missed or ignored warning signs and tried to silence whistleblowers about the physician. In December, the Sioux Falls Argus Leader published an article detailing numerous medical failures persisting at the Pine Ridge Indian Health Service hospital and Rosebud Indian Health Service hospital in South Dakota, despite repeated warnings from federal watchdogs. The committee leaders are requesting a briefing on the troubling reports' findings, as well as requesting that Indian Health Service provide information on how Congress can help the agency improve quality of care for the approximately 2.2 million American Indians and Alaska Natives that it serves.  

Click here to view the full letter.

Related coverage

PBS Frontline, Wall Street Journal broadcast 'Predator on the Reservation'

Comments