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Surveyed patients: IHS is improving

Dec 4, 2012 - By Alejandra Silva, Staff Writer

The Wind River Indian Reservation�s Indian Health Service has been given high ratings from patients who use the program.

IHS is an agency within the Department of Health and Human Services that provides services to Native Americans under federal funds.

In 2008, 19 percent of patients rated IHS as offering the best possible health care. In 2012, the percentage increased as 38 percent of patients gave IHS the best possible health care rating.

In a recent forum, IHS representatives addressed residents� top concerns and questions in an effort to ensure patient satisfaction continues to grow.

IHS got together with the Sundance Research Institute and Eastern Shoshone Tribal Health to conduct surveys that better expressed concerns from patients on the reservation.

The survey included questions about personal doctors and specialists and asked patients whether they would continue to go to IHS even if they could afford to go elsewhere.

In 2012, 79 percent of those surveyed would still go to IHS compared to 69 percent who agreed to do the same in 2008.

Complaints

Community members also expressed some worries during the forum.

For example, some said that if IHS refers a patient to another specialist or doctor, the client then has to drive several hours to reach an appointment that lasts less than 20 minutes.

�There�s no adequate transportation for our patients,� IHS clinical director Alice Moore said. �That�s a huge barrier.�

Other concerns included the long wait time to be seen by a provider, and the lack of and high costs for medications or vaccines. One tribal member said he had a bill for an $800 seasonal allergy shot he received at the hospital in Lander. He said he was sent to Lander because IHS didn�t have that vaccine, and as a result he is stuck with a bill that IHS can�t pay.

Moore said because of the restricted funding, IHS doesn�t carry many medications, and the government won�t cover certain emergency room visits.

Others present at the forum said people need to be better informed about the vaccines or medications they take so they know which costs IHS can and can�t cover.

Moore and Eastern Shoshone Tribal Health Director Cathy Keene both agreed that inadequate funding is a big challenge that affects the care provided to patients. They said they�re also in need of a full staff.

�All our positions are not filled,� Moore said. �We have a hard time recruiting. You don�t get a lot of people who want to move out here.�

Working together

Organizers said after the forum that they were pleased with the event. They said they had not collaborated in that way before, but now they can help one another use available resources to help reservation residents.

�We�re working together,� said Kathyrn Langwell, project director with the Sundance Research Institute and the Robertwood Johnson Foundation Consumer Engagement Program. �They�re doing good things,� Langwell said. �There�s more positive input.�

Moore said she sees the benefit of putting these forums together.

�Positive changes are built upon,� she said. �All IHS is trying to do is progress.�

Keene said the agency is working to better serve its clients.

�I think that if tribal health is to be an advocate for health care we need to understand our own barriers,� she said. �I think we can become stronger advocates for a whole health system out here, (but) we need to first understand our issues.�

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Wind River Indian Reservation