Care at Indian Health Service facilities is 'horrifying,' senator says during hearing

The care provided at Indian Health Service facilities is under fire in the Senate as the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs held a hearing on the federal agency Wednesday.

The IHS is an agency within HHS that provides federal health services to American Indians and Alaska Natives at 28 hospitals, 62 health centers and 25 health stations throughout the U.S.

"What we've found is simply horrifying and unacceptable," said Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.), during the hearing, according to NBC News. Sen. Barrasso chairs the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs.

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According to Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.), who participated in the hearing, there have been reports of using dirty equipment, patients being discharged prematurely and a baby being born on the bathroom floor at IHS facilities. Some of these issues have resulted in patient deaths.

"Each of these would be shocking enough on its own, but taken together, along with the litany of previously known failures, they paint a pretty bleak picture of the care our tribal citizens are receiving an astonishing lack of commitment by IHS officials to delivering the care they deserve," Sen. Thune said during the hearing.

Some of these issues may stem form IHS' lack of funds. "The IHS is severely underfunded compared to other federal agencies," said former Sen. Byron Dorgan, who currently chairs The Center for Native American Youth at The Aspen Institute, according to NBC News.

IHS officials say they are working to address care deficiencies through options like telehealth, but point to the difficulties of providing care in rural, isolated locations, according to NBC News.

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