IHS prepares for population growthA reorganization of the senior staff is among the changes since Charlene Red Thunder took over as area director of the Aberdeen Area Indian Health Service.
ABERDEEN (AP) — A reorganization of the senior staff is among the changes since Charlene Red Thunder took over as area director of the Aberdeen Area Indian Health Service.
Red Thunder has created a senior staff she believes will let the Aberdeen Area IHS move forward in a four-state coverage area where more than 118,000 Indians who are eligible for services. By 2015, IHS officials expect the Indian population to increase to 145,628.
The Aberdeen Area IHS is responsible for seven hospitals and 10 health centers in South Dakota, North Dakota, Iowa and Nebraska.
Red Thunder said she and her staff have spent a lot of time meeting with the area’s 17 Indian tribes.
“We wanted to listen to their concerns,” said Red Thunder, an enrolled member of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe. “We wanted to give them a chance to advocate for their constituents.”
The Aberdeen area office employs more than 1,900 workers and has an annual operating budget of more than $302 million.
“We wanted to offer transparency for the tribes,” said Allen Davis, the executive officer who is now also serving as deputy director of management operations. “We wanted to provide better access to what we’re doing. A way to open up the books really. Internally, we’ll reorganize to see if there’s a more efficient way of doing things.”
Ray Grandbois, an IHS associate area director, said a lack of good communication between the top management and the tribes sometimes produced misunderstandings.
Challenges for quality health care for the tribes are abundant, Grandbois said. Financially, the IHS struggles to stretch dollars, specialists are hard to come by and recruitment of doctors and health care providers is hard in more rural places and the money isn’t usually as good as it is in the private sector.
Still, Red Thunder said, the Aberdeen Area IHS is trying to bridge some of those gaps, starting with the financial issues.
Red Thunder said she hopes to partner with other groups, such as Veterans Health Administration, to see what kind of services can be combined or even shared.
“We need to partner with as many entities as possible to stretch the dollars,” she said. “We don’t want to be duplicating services.”
Recruitment and retention of quality health care providers has improved, said Rick Sorensen, an associate area director who is now serving as deputy director of Indian health policy. IHS has used word of mouth and a scholarship and loan repayment program to hang on to doctors.
“When you see low turnover rate, there’s something good going on there,” Sorensen said.