Indian Health Service Hinders Press Coverage of Youth Suicide Prevention Efforts

While checking out his critique of our Congressional delegation’s focus on repealing the estate tax, I noticed that KSOO’s Rick Knobe is also trying to get information about the rash of youth suicides on South Dakota’s Indian reservations. Knobe wanted to raise awareness of the issue by interviewing an Indian Health Service employee about that agency’s anti-suicide programs on the reservations. However, he found the IHS bureaucracy resisting freedom of the press:

I received this from an employee of IHS in Aberdeen:

The process goes as the following, the CEO must first approve for this interview. Once approved I will work with the reporter and get any additional information. Since this will be put out to the public, I will need all interview questions in advance. This will go to the Area Director for approval and then up to HQ.

If this interview is done on your own time, without any information provided by the Indian Health Service nor Indian Health Service is mentioned, you do not need any approval from this agency as this will be your own personal interview NOT including Indian Health Service. Therefore, is this a topic that will require Indian Health Service information? Data?

In the 30 years I have spent interviewing government people on the radio, I have NEVER had to supply written questions in advance!

I am frustrated, angry, and mostly sad. Frustrated at the bureaucratic nature of the IHS. Angry because you will not be able to hear about this most important story. I am not willing to put myself under the thumb of Indian Health Service protocols [Rick Knobe, “Indian Health Service Stymies Information Flow on Youth Suicide,” KSOO Radio, 2015.04.23].

One would think that Indian Health Service would be keenly interested in putting its best face forward, demonstrating that the federal government can respond effectively to a public health crisis in Indian Country, as well as getting more information out to tribal families about services that are available to help them combat this plague of suicides. But there Knobe and I go thinking again.

16 Responses to Indian Health Service Hinders Press Coverage of Youth Suicide Prevention Efforts

  1. David Newquist

    As the Indian Health Service is a federal agency, an aggressive journalist can pry loose information on the suicide prevention efforts by making a Freedom of Information request. It has long been noted for being as bad as a bureaucracy can get.

  2. Is it correct that IHS is underfunded and can only provide full coverage/services for a certain amount of time until their funds run out for the fiscal year?

    Looking at Behavioral Health and in particular Youth Regional Treatment Centers (YRTC) within IHS and am curious as to how effective they are and how much flexibility they have in their programing. Are they tightly constrained within the way they are set up as a bureaucracy? Is there the funds and latitude within the YRTC to be innovative and try new things or would it fall to an entirely different entity outside of YRTC or even IHS?

  3. Roger Elgersma

    Where I grew up if someone had a health problem, unless it was a woman surgery, everyone knew and talked about it. That way if someone was not working we knew why without blaming them for being lazy.
    But when I met Natives I found out that you do not talk about health problems because that is their own private business and to embarrassing to discuss. So they do not talk about those things from embarrassment and you are not to talk about those things since it would be entirely impolite to discuss the issue even if in your mind you thought you were caring and would help if needed.
    There are hundreds of tribes and I am sure they are not all identical.
    But for an example, when the whites gave blankets small pox etc. to the Natives in Nebraska so the wagon trains could go through without any trouble, the Natives got diseases where they would get diarrhea and vomit till they died. So when the strong ones started noticing such symptoms they knew they would be to embarrassed to die that way so they dove in the river and drown rather than be embarrassed. So the strong who may have lived through it died along with the rest and some tribes were totally wiped out.
    So now if they do not want to talk about problems, this is their culture. But then, Republicans have gag laws so they will not let their secrets out either.

  4. larry kurtz

    Recall that IHS has dragged its feet in making Plan B available to American Indian women.

  5. Roger Cornelius

    The BIA/IHS Aberdeen Are Offices are nothing more than an industrial Hoover that have been sucking up millions of dollars over the decades, money that was intended to provide numerous services and health care to tribes and tribal members.
    I believe the concept of the area offices that serve South Dakota and surrounding states came about in the 1950’s as reward for political campaign contributions for federal office holders.
    The area offices have been out of date for years, tribes have gained enough clout to work directly with the Washington BIA. The first complaint tribes usually have when they go to D.C. is how the Aberdeen Area Offices stalls on funding and other required documentation and services.
    The area offices have good reason to control and stifle free speech, they have a lot to cover up.
    There are BIA and IHS employees, both Indian and non-Indian would love to tell some of the horror stories but are threatened with the loss of their jobs.

  6. Mr. Elgersma is making things up. Mr. C, please tell me that Mr. Elgersma is making things up.

  7. Roger Cornelius

    You’re right grudz, I haven’t heard much in regard to Roger E’s claims. Many Indian do keep their illnesses and ailments to themselves, but it has more to do with humility and not wanting to burden others with their problems.
    If you were to walk into a room full of tribal elders you would likely find some discussing their ailments, much like the non-Indians in the old folks home.

  8. Indeed. Lots of people keep their ailments to themselves. I don’t bore everybody at breakfast group with the details of the last time I was prostrated by the agonies.

  9. larry kurtz

    Speaking of genocide, someone go over to the primate house and tell Fleming that christians wiped out 100 million indigenous in the New World when the global population was about a billion.

    IHS and VA should be merged.

  10. agencies and suicide prevention groups are frightened that any action they take will exacerbate the complex, ill-understood contagion effect which could benefit from some science, as said previously here, I think.

    knobe reminds me of a reporter I once knew who wanted a great, juicy story in a double murder case and didn’t understand why a defense lawyer wasn’t willing to do an interview. this is similar to the concern in the benda matter, I assume.

  11. Roger Elgersma

    What I wrote I heard from Indians themselves.

  12. Roger Cornelius

    It needs to be made clear that IHS does have the money to fight this suicide epidemic on the Pine Ridge Reservation, it is wasted on so many levels of bureaucracy in D.C. and Aberdeen that all the Behavioral Health programs on the reservations get are crumbs.
    Most of the Behavioral Health programs aren’t staffed properly, in fact most don’t have a psychiatrist supervising therapist, councilors, and nurse practitioners, they usually operate under the supervision of an Aberdeen based psychiatrist.
    Retention of qualified personnel in these programs is a joke, I’d speculate that a year of service is a stretch. This is unbelievable and sickening for a profession that requires a provider to develop trust with their patients.
    As a result most Behavioral Health programs are nothing more than pill pushers with little or no follow up for therapy or further evaluations.
    IHS personnel mismanagement is an epidemic itself, personalities and power grabs consume valuable time that could be spent on patients.
    I have a long time personal friend that was a nurse practitioner at Sioux San for over 20, for a non-Indian she was able to develop a trust with her patients in Rapid City, Pine Ridge, Rosebud and Cheyenne River. The Aberdeen IHS area director and the Sioux San CEO played so many games with her that she finally gave up and left Sioux San. The administrators paid no attention to her success with literally hundreds of patients, only that someone somewhere didn’t like her.

  13. tara volesky

    Roger is 100% correct. Shame on the 3, SD sent to congress…….they are part of the problem by dishing out millions to the wrong entities.

  14. Roger,

    That sounds terrible as far as what services they provide for consumers and does not meet their mission. Pill pushers? High turnover and lack of local supervision and priority focusing on the local needs of the community.

    Having the ability to go talk, vent, bounce feelings or ideas off a trained professional you don’t even worry about this person being gone in a few months is extremely important. It’s not just one professional but a few since that patient needs to feel comfortable to open up and have the right chemistry with that particular therapist. Our Native communities should have access to quality and consistent Holistic care for body, mind and spirit.

    It’s not just quality individual therapy but various options for group therapy and activities, hobbies and interests that promote healthier ways to express oneself without being in a mind altered state. Less reliance on pills unless absolutely needed,

    Has BIA and IHS grown into a huge centralized Native jobs program that resembles the worst of any government agency where people are concerned about protecting their own jobs, there is much waste and the only way to get rid of an incompetent employee is to promote them?

    I’ve known many who were employed by BIA and IHS and those are good jobs! Those jobs have good benefits, pay and job security especially here in South Dakota where those types of jobs are rare and. Some of those I’ve known have moved on to other government agencies afterwards.

    Should BIA and IHS be scrapped and replaced with something else? Can these agencies be overhauled and renamed?

    What should be done?

  15. Consider “…the “multigenerational trauma” inflicted on Native Americans by whites and the tensions that still exist between the groups. On an overnight trip to Rapid City over the New Year, a group of girls including Santana overheard a white woman call them “filthy Indians” as they passed through a hotel lobby….nyt