Our top priority at the Indian Health Service is making sure that American Indian and Alaska Native families have access to quality health care. We’re not accepting business as usual at IHS. We are working hard to make sustainable improvements.
This year, we began executing an aggressive strategy to improve the quality of care at IHS hospitals in the Great Plains Area and across the country. First, we’re assessing the quality of care to quickly make needed improvements. Second, we’re transforming how hospitals deliver care to patients. Third, we’re strengthening management. Fourth, we’re building a quality network to share best practices. Fifth, and most importantly, we’re doing this work hand-in-hand with tribes and local organizations that are valuable sources of expertise and partnership.
We want to lift up the facilities across Indian Country that deliver high-quality care and work closely with those that need improvement. We are taking a very close look at the quality of care delivered through direct service hospitals at IHS facilities across the Great Plains Area and throughout Indian Country.
For the past 10 years, health-care systems have been embracing a new focus on quality improvement, and we are working to bring this sharper focus to IHS. For example, IHS is beginning a system-wide mock survey initiative at all 27 of its hospitals to assess compliance with Medicare and readiness for re-accreditation. These mock surveys are being conducted by teams from outside Areas to reduce potential bias.
A main obstacle to getting high-quality care to patients in Indian Country is the chronic shortage of clinicians. We are working diligently to stem local shortages and build a pipeline for staff training and deployment.
Already, more than two dozen clinicians from the U.S. Public Health Service Commissioned Corps have deployed to hospitals in the Great Plains. And our colleagues at the National Institutes of Health are helping us try out new and innovative recruitment strategies. We are also exploring alternative ways to get people the health care they need, like expanding outpatient hours in certain locations and using telehealth to bring hard-to-find specialty care right to the patient.
We want every hospital to be a top-quality facility with strong management. We have a new search committee process for recruiting highly qualified managers and executives. Vacancies are now widely advertised through federal, state and non-profit partners. And we have expanded tribal participation in filling vacant Area Director positions.
Bringing expertise to IHS
A key way to improve IHS facilities is by helping them exchange innovative ideas and tools that are proven to work. We recently launched a Hospital Engagement Network to reach across all 27 IHS hospitals and share strategies on how to reduce avoidable readmissions and hospital-acquired infections. Working together, hospitals can learn more and improve faster. We’re also bringing experts from different parts of HHS to consult with IHS hospitals and ensure that our improvements are real and measurable.
Engaging local resources
Our government-to-government relationship with tribes is the foundation of our work at IHS. Some of the most helpful expertise and effective leadership is in the tribal communities we work with every day. That’s why we’re always committed to strengthening these relationships and engaging further with partners from the community — like local and regional health-care systems, local colleges and universities, and the leadership of direct service hospitals. We’re all stronger when we work together.
At IHS, we’re committed to making meaningful and measurable progress to improve the health and well-being of Indian Country today, and for generations to come.
Mary L. Smith, a member of the Cherokee Nation, is the head of the Indian Health Service, the U.S. federal government agency responsible for providing health care to 2.2 million American Indian and Alaska Native members of federally recognized tribes.