Winnebago Indian Health Services Hospital

The Winnebago Indian Health Service Hospital is shown in Winnebago, Nebraska.

Jim Lee, Sioux City Journal

WINNEBAGO, Neb. | The Indian Health Service is replacing four top officials at its troubled hospital on the Winnebago Reservation in Northeast Nebraska, according to documents obtained by the Journal.

IHS, in a letter sent Tuesday to the Winnebago and Omaha tribes, outlined the government agency's plan to replace the hospital’s chief executive officer, nursing director, clinical director and administrative officer with interim employees until permanent replacements are found.

The hospital serves both tribes.

According to the letter, Shelly Harris will serve as acting hospital CEO, replacing current CEO Randy Jordan. Ahmed Mohammad will be acting clinical director. The letter did not indicate who would serve as acting nursing director or administrative officer.

Harris currently serves as CEO for Quentin Burdick Memorial Hospital in Belcourt, North Dakota, and is acting area deputy director of field operations for IHS in Aberdeen, South Dakota. Mohammad is a physician at the Winnebago hospital, according to IHS records.

The Journal’s attempts to reach Harris and Mohammad were not immediately successful Thursday.

It was unclear whether previous hospital leadership will remain a part of IHS. The Winnebago and Omaha tribes are expected to meet with IHS during the week of Sept. 14.

“IHS has made staffing changes. We cannot speak to specific personnel matters,” said Theresa Eisenman, an IHS spokeswoman. “The agency is continuing to recruit and fill vacant positions as efficiently as possible at the Winnebago facility.”

A statement from Winnebago Tribal Council Chairwoman Darla LaPointe on Thursday said the previous leaders were removed. However, the IHS letter to the tribes did not specify whether that had happened.

LaPointe said in her statement that the IHS action came in response to demands made last week during a closed meeting with the Winnebago and Omaha tribes. After the meeting in Sioux City, the tribes announced they had demanded the resignation of eight top officials. 

“We feel very strongly these actions are in the best interest for the safety of our people,” LaPointe said in the statement. “However, the Winnebago Tribe will continue to hold IHS to its word. Working with the Omaha Tribe, we intend to closely monitor the corrective actions IHS undertakes.”

Eisenman added that IHS has continued to work with the two tribes as progress is made toward restoring Medicare and Medicaid funding, which was pulled July 23. She also said the agency plans to award a contract to pay for emergency room care and add medical staff.

The U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services terminated its contract with the Winnebago hospital, meaning the facility would no longer be reimbursed for services to patients covered by the federal and state insurance programs for the elderly and disabled. The CMS found that deficiencies at the hospital had caused “immediate jeopardy” to patients, including a man who died of kidney failure on Jan. 1.

IHS also received an initial report from its independent contractor detailing a review of hospital operations. The Journal was not able to obtain the report’s initial findings Thursday.

In Tuesday’s letter, IHS Great Plains Area Director Ron Cornelius, who works in Aberdeen, said that he viewed tribal input as “important” as his agency and the tribes work together to improve care at the hospital.

However, both tribes want IHS to remove Cornelius, as well as area Chief Medical Officer Mark Jackson from office, citing poor leadership they say led to unsafe conditions at the hospital.

“While we welcome the staff changes already made, we will continue to demand the removal of the area director and the chief medical officer for the Great Plains Area who bear ultimate responsibility for the failures at the IHS Winnebago Services Unit,” LaPointe said in her statement.

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