Pine Ridge paramedic crews fired without notice, staff says

EMTs formerly employed by the Oglala Sioux Tribe Ambulance Service (OSTAS) are wearing the...
(Santianna Yellow Horse)
Published: Sep. 15, 2021 at 4:36 PM MDT
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RAPID CITY, S.D. (KEVN) - EMTs with the Oglala Sioux Tribe Ambulance Service (OSTAS) are on the hunt for jobs after they say they were let go without any notice.

On Sept. 10, Indian Health Services (IHS) conducted an emergency reassumption of the service, seizing their ambulances and relieving all medics from duty effective 9 a.m. that morning.

Santianna Yellow Horse, one of the medics who was fired, says no one has received any official notice of their termination.

She says most former employees found out through word of mouth after OSTAS Acting Director and Oglala Sioux Tribe Health Administrator Delores Pourier told a dispatcher to relay the news to the rest of the staff.

Yellow Horse also says they were told to not tell anyone about the firing.

IHS responded to a request for comment with the following statement: “On September 10, IHS partially re-assumed the Pine Ridge Service Unit Ambulance Program. IHS will operate the ambulance program that was operated by the Oglala Sioux Tribe. IHS will oversee emergent transfers to and from the service unit, including those requiring a higher level of care or specialty care. The transition is effective immediately, and IHS began providing Basic Life Support and Advanced Life Support ambulance and crew to support 24/7 coverage of the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation on September 10. Patient safety is a top priority at the IHS. IHS will continue to work with the Oglala Sioux Tribe, Pine Ridge Service Unit, and IHS Great Plains Area leaders, to ensure safe and quality care at the service unit.”

We have sent a list of questions asking the IHS to clarify some specifics on the situations and are currently waiting for a response.

KOTA Territory News previously reported that staff members voiced their concerns to the tribe - asking for better working conditions and low wages, the lack of which contributed to a staffing issue.

Yellow Horse says the EMTs often had to work around equipment issues, and that it wasn’t unheard of for staff to pay out-of-pocket to replace inadequate tools used on their ambulances.

The former EMT also says she felt the OST wasn’t working in their best interests after they allegedly placed restrictions on certain benefits. This included limiting the maximum amount of overtime they could receive to 10 hours per week - overtime they took advantage of to make-up for the $8.89 starting wage - and requiring staff to receive approval before they could work a second or third job.

”We’ve had a council member - we’ve heard him say in a council meeting ‘this isn’t Burger King. You can’t have it your way’ in regards to the low wages,” Yellow Horse said.

The quote she is referring to comes from Councilman Bernardo Rodriguez, Jr., who said in an Aug. 18 special session “I’ll second or third this motion to give this back to the IHS ... They [OSTAS] want things their way. This ain’t McDonald’s or Burger King. It don’t work like that.”

Yellow Horse remains optimistic about the abrupt shift in management. She says any sort of change would be good for the ambulance service, as their issues often went unaddressed for years.

“The way we were functioning through the tribe, it wasn’t what the people deserved and we were all doing the best we could. I wanna say that right up front. Everyone that I’ve worked with with OST Ambulance Service has been amazing, have put up with so much, have given so much of themselves to the community ... and I love them for that.”

Tribe president Kevin Killer says the IHS “surprised” tribal council members with their decision during a Sept. 10 phone call. In a statement released on Saturday, he wrote “this was not a decision or an action of the Oglala Sioux Tribe. It was entirely the decision of the IHS, and it was illegal. The IHS can only take back a program in very limited emergency situations, none of which existed here. As a result, the IHS’s action was unlawful and flies in the face of tribal rights and Indian self-determination.”

A spokesman for the tribal council told KOTA Territory News tribal authorities would be looking into the legality of the reassumption.

We have reached out to the OST for further comment and have not received a response.

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