The emergency room at the Indian Health Services hospital in Rapid City, S.D., will close indefinitely, the federal government announced Tuesday, a move that some tribal officials say will threaten lives.
The Sioux San Hospital emergency department is set to be closed on Sept. 20 due primarily to the age of the facility and equipment, IHS officials said, though the hospital will continue to offer urgent care services around the clock for needs that are not complicated or life-threatening.
Rear Admiral Sarah Linde, the IHS acting chief medical officer, told The Associated Press that justifying emergency services at Sioux San "is no longer as clear as it once was," given the fact the next-closest emergency room is less than 5 miles (8 km) away at Rapid City Regional Hospital.
Asked if the closure could become permanent, Linde said, "The future will be determined by continued consultation with the tribes and stakeholders about how IHS can best use limited resources to ensure access to quality care for patients."
Linde said "a very small percentage" of patients would need emergency services beyond what Sioux San urgent care can provide.
Inspectors with the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services earlier this year cited serious issues with patient care in the Sioux San emergency room and had threatened to cut off funding. The review found patients were not receiving appropriate medical screening examinations and the lack of care could cause serious injury, harm, impairment or death to a patient.
A correction plan was put in place and continued funding was approved by CMS in May. The latest action is not related to CMS review, Linde said.
Officials with the Unified Tribal Health Board for the Sioux San Hospital, which consists of the Oglala Sioux, Rosebud Sioux and Cheyenne River tribes, criticized Tuesday's action.
O.J. Semans, a member of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe Health Board, said it will strain area hospitals that will have to take over emergency care. He pointed to the Rosebud hospital emergency room, which was shut down for seven months and reopened in July.
"It's almost beyond words when you know that you have other relatives, brothers and sisters, cousins, uncles and aunts that their lives are going to be in danger as much as they were here," Semans said.
CMS issued similar deadlines to IHS-run hospitals on the Pine Ridge and Rosebud reservations in South Dakota after substandard conditions were uncovered during inspections.
"We need a complete audit in order for us to get the big picture of how bad this is and what we need to do to fix it," Semans said. "And until we get that independent audit, we are going to go through this with every hospital in the United States."