Tribal Health Director tells Rounds staffer Tribe is being failed by multiple Federal agencies

By Rich Winter

As Tribal Health Director, Evie Espinoza eschewed the last few syllables of what had been a ten-minute one-way conversation with Senator Mike Rounds’ Chief of Staff, Rob Skjonsberg at Tribal Council Chambers in Rosebud Wednesday, she did so by apologizing for what may have come across to Skjonsberg as the words of a very frustrated Health Director who is fed up with the lack of cooperation and lack of communication from the CMS in regards to the impending investigation and potential ramifications for the IHS Hospital in Rosebud.

Skjonsberg took Espinoza’s words in stride; what choice did he have, as Espinoza had a lot to say.

Espinoza explained to Skjosberg her and the Tribe’s frustration with the lack of communication from CMS by referring to CMS posting a legal notice in the Rapid City Journal informing the Rosebud Sioux Tribe of CMS’s intentions to visit the Rosebud Sioux Tribe late last week to finalize their investigations to see if IHS has met all the requirements to avoid closure by Feb. 17.

“That’s not even our local newspaper,” Espinoza said. “That’s not an acceptable way of notifying a community and our Tribe. That’s a paper that is far from us.”

Espinoza spoke at length about her frustration with the communication between IHS, CMS and the Rosebud Sioux Tribe and at one point told Skjonsberg and those in attendance that the Rosebud Sioux Tribe was being failed by multiple federal agencies. 

“I reach out to CMS and request stuff directly from them and all I get back is a scripted response and I’m just done with it,” Espinoza said. “This crisis is affecting our people and everyone has to change the way we’re communicating.”

Espinoza spoke of her frustration with people from CMS people making decisions for Rosebud Sioux Tribal members that they don’t know and can’t hope to understand without ever having been here.

“If you’re going to be deciding the fate of Tribal members then respect our input, even if you don’t agree with them, that’s all we want.”

Before she handed the floor back to Skjonsberg, Espinoza shared these thoughts with the Rounds staffer.

“I know you guys are absorbing my frustration right now but I ask that you take that back with you and share that with your network and help us get sustainable, meaningful changes,” Espinoza said. 

Skjonsberg whose mother is a member of the Sisseton/Wahpetan Tribe, told those in attendance that he’s very close to these issues as his mother worked as a Public Health Nurse for 37 years.

He noted, Senator Rounds is keeping a close eye on the IHS situation and before pointing to big Government as causing a lot of the problems.

“The problem is all the bureaucracy in the middle,” Skjonsberg said. “I think he (Senator Rounds) is deeply bothered by the IHS events in Rosebud.”

Senator Rounds, Special Assistant, Tyler Tordsen, who has been communicating regularly with the Tribe and Espinoza said he hoped all parties would consider input from the Rosebud Sioux Tribe.

“It’s going to take a lot of input but we can’t let another six years go by while people are dying.”

RST President, William ‘Willie” Kindle asked Skjonsberg what Senator Rounds had planned if IHS were to suffer a negative CMS review and face consequences on Feb. 17?

“What we’re concerned about today is that Feb. 17th date,” Kindle said. “We need to know from you what the Senator can do on that day because that day is coming up real quick.”

While Skjonsberg said Rounds had no official plan of action in the case of what if for Feb. 17., He noted the results of the CMS investigation and the fate of Rosebud IHS was something the Senator was deeply concerned about.

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