Winnebago Indian Health Services Hospital

The Winnebago Tribal Council has voted to initiate the self-governance process to take over operations of the Winnebago Indian Health Service Hospital in Winnebago, Neb., from the federal Indian Health Service. The tribe hopes to take over operations by July 1.

Jim Lee, Sioux City Journal file

WINNEBAGO, Neb. | The Winnebago Tribal Council has moved to take over management of the troubled Omaha Winnebago Hospital.

After voting last week to initiate the self-governance process, the tribe will soon ask the Indian Health Service to begin negotiations for the tribal takeover of the federally operated health care facility in Winnebago.

"The Winnebago Tribe has been working toward this day for more than two years. We believe the tribe can improve the quality and access to care at the hospital and stabilize the management of the health system," tribal Chairman Frank White said in a news release.

The tribe hopes to assume operation of the hospital by July 1. The tribe has scheduled a press conference for 1 p.m. Tuesday at the Ho-Chunk Center in Winnebago to discuss the move.

Self-governance allows Indian tribes to assume administration of federal programs. A steering committee has been formed to help the Winnebago Tribal Council prepare for the negotiations and eventual management of the hospital.

"Committee members have been working since June to plan and develop materials that support the assumption of the hospital. It is a critical endeavor for Winnebago to raise the level of health care available to all tribal citizens in our area," tribal councilwoman Victoria Kitcheyan said.

In July 2015, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services terminated the hospital's Medicare contract after IHS and hospital officials failed to correct deficiencies the agency had found. The CMS released a report that identified a number of life-threatening deficiencies at the hospital, located about 20 miles south of Sioux City. Critics have blamed problems at the hospital for multiple deaths and misdiagnosis of patients.

Trust in the hospital took another hit in August, after it was revealed that up to 35 podiatry patients may have been inadvertently infected with diseases including HIV and hepatitis because a podiatry instrument was not properly sterilized between procedures. The podiatrist responsible for the mistake was fired.

IHS officials says improvements have been made at the hospital, where some top staff were replaced and day-to-day management of the emergency department was turned over to a private contractor based in Arizona.

The tribal council said it hoped to retain current employees after it assumes management of the hospital.

Winnebago tribal leaders have met with the Omaha Tribal Council regarding the transition because both tribes share concerns about the IHS' failure to achieve recertification and want the hospital restored to appropriate standards, White said in the news release.

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