SIOUX CITY | Leaders of the Winnebago and Omaha tribes of Nebraska demanded the resignation Wednesday of eight top officials connected with the troubled Native American hospital in Winnebago.
Tribal leaders argued the dismissals would help restore Medicare funding the hospital lost last month, and ensure that patients receive adequate care.
In a rare show of cooperation, the elected leaders from the two neighboring tribes in Northeast Nebraska also approved a resolution calling for the tribes to take over management of the hospital from the Indian Health Service.
“We’re hoping that this will get some recognition, and we’ll get some answers,” Winnebago Tribal Council Chair Darla LaPointe said.
Tribal officials met privately Wednesday in Sioux City with some IHS officials. Afterward, the tribal councils emerged to demand the resignation of IHS Area Director Don Cornelius, Great Plains Chief Medical Officer Mark Jackson and Winnebago hospital CEO Randy Jordan, as well as the hospital's administrative officer and directors of nursing, emergency room, clinic and managed care.
A IHS spokesperson did not immediately return an email seeking comment Wednesday.
The meeting Wednesday at the Stoney Creek Hotel & Conference Center was closed to the general public, but enrolled tribal members were allowed to attend. About 70 tribal members were present.
Omaha Tribal Council Chair Vernon Miller said some tribe members gave personal accounts of their experiences at the hospital.
After the two-hour meeting, about 15 members of the Winnebago and Omaha tribes held signs outside the conference center with messages such as: “Remove IHS," "It’s tribal time," and “IHS follow your promises.” Some members of the Omaha Tribe played drums to welcome the tribal council members.
Miller said the resolution was the first time, in recent memory in which the two tribes had worked together toward a single goal. He also said the next step for the Omaha Tribe is to travel to Washington, D.C., to talk with high-ranking IHS officials and members of Nebraska and Iowa's congressional delegation.
“It would be optimistic for us to hope that (IHS) would take action,” Miller said. “Realistically, (it’s) knowing how the government process works … it was our hope that they take action, but it is also a reality that we understand the bureaucracy of … (the federal government).”
In late July, the Winnebago Tribe made a similar trip to the nation's capital where they discussed plans with federal lawmakers and other officials to correct deficiencies and reinstate funding at the hospital.
LaPointe said Wednesday’s private meeting with IHS officials left her with some unanswered questions, which included the future of current hospital funding and the state of patient care while the tribes seek a solution.
“I think we both still have questions that are unanswered due to time constraints,” she said. “I think we still have a lot of questions that still need to be answered.”
The U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services on July 23 terminated its contract with the Winnebago hospital. That means the hospital is no longer eligible for reimbursement from the federal government for caring for patients covered by the insurance programs for the elderly and disabled.
The CMS took the action after finding serious deficiencies at the hospital that caused “immediate jeopardy” to patients, including a man who died of kidney failure on Jan. 1.
The Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services also has notified it has withdrawn Medicaid funds for any new patients. Medicaid is a state-federal insurance program for the disabled and low-income.
LaPointe lamented Wednesday that responses to save the hospital did not begin until federal and state funding was pulled.
“We have lost lives,” she said. “It has come to the point where we have to lose funding for action to be taken.”