May 1, 2019

VIDEO: Udall Presses IHS Leadership on Need for Strong Funding, Budgetary Certainty for Indian Health Service


For Immediate Release

May 1, 2019

Contact: Ned Adriance

202.228.6870 ||  @SenatorTomUdall 


VIDEO: Udall Presses IHS Leadership on Need for Strong Funding, Budgetary Certainty for Indian Health Service


Also calls on IHS to prevent abuse of native youth by IHS personnel and raises need to replace Gallup Indian Medical Center


WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Senator Tom Udall (D-N.M.), ranking member of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies and vice chairman of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, questioned Rear Admiral Michael Weahkee, Principal Deputy Director of the Indian Health Service (IHS), about the need for strong funding and budgetary certainty for critical IHS programs and priorities.


Video of Udall’s opening statement is available HERE and questioning of Admiral Weahkee is available HERE, HERE, and HERE. The full text of Udall’s opening remarks as prepared for delivery is available HERE.


Udall has long championed strong investment in IHS programs to meet the United States’ trust and treaty responsibilities to Indian Country and provide quality health care to Native communities, including working to increase funding for IHS facilities, mental health services, substance abuse programs, and preventative health care by 25 percent since 2015.


“I’m happy to see a better budget request this year than we have seen in recent years from this administration,” said Udall. “But the overall budget still falls short of meaningfully addressing the healthcare needs of Indian Country. And, I’m concerned by some of the tradeoffs, cuts, and false choices that are proposed in the budget.”

Highlights from Udall’s questioning of Weahkee include:

– Oversight to Protect Native Youth: Udall questioned Weahkee on IHS’ efforts to review and reform personnel management procedures in the wake of evidence that the IHS ignored reports of abuse of Native American children by one of its former employees, Dr. Stanley Patrick Weber.


“Admiral Weahkee, when you came before the Senate Indian Affairs Committee in March, we had the opportunity to talk about the failure of IHS management to take action against and stop Dr. Steven Patrick Weber…who abused his position working as a pediatrician in Indian Health Service facilities to prey on children for two decades,” said Udall. “The [IHS] is still unable to explain why more immediate action was not taken when these allegations where brought forward multiple times—why Dr. Weber was simply moved around rather than facing disciplinary action—and whether agency staff have access to the right policies, training and culture to make sure that a situation like this never happens again.”

“You assured members of the committee that the agency planned to undertake a ‘quality assurance review’ of Dr. Weber’s case to determine what systems broke down. And you also flagged several termination actions that the agency had undertaken as a result of your broader efforts to root out misconduct similar to Dr. Weber’s.  The committee has not received any follow up from you on either one of these matters.  I’d like to renew the request, and make sure the Appropriations Committee is also fully briefed,” said Udall. “Has the agency has issued a contract for its formal review, and how long it will take to receive the results?”

Weahkee responded that the agency “is moving forward full force on all fronts to address this issue” and indicated that IHS expects to make an announcement regarding actions on the quality assurance review shortly.

“Your written testimony notes that IHS has implemented new professional standards and reporting requirements. Can you share the details of the actions that you have taken?” replied Udall.

Weahkee said that all IHS employees are now considered mandatory reporters and that performance and qualification records are now available across the agency as opposed to being previously available only at the local level. 

– Gallup Indian Medical Center:  In Fiscal Year 2019, Udall secured $2 million for planning and site selection for the replacement of the Gallup Indian Medical Center (GIMC).  Replacement of the facility is critical and has been at the bottom of the 1992 construction priority list for nearly 30 years. The current hospital has faced numerous facility issues that contributed to the hospital nearly losing its accreditation last year.  


“Replacement of the [Gallup] facility is desperately needed as you saw last year when the facility’s issues contributed to the GIMC nearly losing its accreditation.  I understand there have been discussions with the Navajo Nation about finalizing a site for the project which is critical given that the project is finally ready to start moving. Could you let us know what the status of those discussions are and what steps IHS is taking to finally break ground on the facility replacement?” asked Udall.


Weahkee stated that he had recently met with Navajo Nation President Nez about site selection. Admiral Gary Hartz, Director of the Office of Environmental Health and Engineering, noted that IHS was looking at the viability of multiple site locations and that they were ready to move the project along.

– Advanced Appropriations: Udall referenced his bill, the Indian Programs Advance Appropriations Act, and pressed Weahkee about the need to move IHS to an advance appropriations cycle to protect essential federal and Tribal programs from the detrimental impacts of budgetary uncertainty caused by government shutdowns and short-term funding packages.

“I am very proud to have introduced the Indian Programs Advance Appropriations Act this Congress to authorize the budgets for the Indian Health Service and other Tribal programs to be provided a year in advance so that Tribes don’t have to live through the effects of another disastrous—and entirely preventable—government shutdown,” said Udall. “I know that the administration doesn’t have an official position on the legislation, but I wanted to ask you to confirm whether you have been heard the same clamor from Tribes to move IHS to advance appropriations and prevent the impacts of another shutdown?”


Weahkee agreed with Udall and noted that the partial government shutdown had devastating impacts on Tribes and IHS patients, noting the stories he’s heard show the problems caused are still “recent and raw.” He then confirmed that has heard “robust support for advanced appropriations” from Tribes.

“It’s really clear that we need to move in this direction and pass the Indian Programs Advance Appropriations act,” said Udall.


Video of Udall’s opening statement is available HERE and questioning of Admiral Weahkee is available HERE, HERE, and HERE. The full text of Udall’s opening remarks as prepared for delivery is available HERE.