S.D. EMS crew fired without notice

Indian Health Services seized all Oglala Sioux Tribe Ambulance Service rigs and relieved all paramedics from duty on Sept. 10


By Rachel Engel

RAPID CITY, S.D. — Members of the Oglala Sioux Tribe Ambulance Service (OSTAS) were notified they had been let go without notice after the organization was taken over by Indian Health Services (IHS).

On September 10, IHS seized all ambulances and relieved all providers, KOTA TV reported. Many employees discovered they were out of a job by word of mouth. Paramedic Santianna Yellow Horse said the acting director of OSTAS asked a dispatcher to relay the terminations to the rest of the crew.

Members of the Oglala Sioux Tribe Ambulance Service (OSTAS) were notified they had been let go without notice after the organization was taken over by Indian Health Services (HIS).
Members of the Oglala Sioux Tribe Ambulance Service (OSTAS) were notified they had been let go without notice after the organization was taken over by Indian Health Services (HIS). (Photo/OSTAS-EMS)

In August, OSTAS employees staged a walk-out due to staffing shortages and low wages; starting pay at OSTAS is $8.89/hour.

Yellow Horse said employees felt underappreciated after limitations were placed on benefits. For example, employees were restricted to 10 hours of overtime each week and required approval in order to take 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 IHS released a statement regarding the reassumption of OSTAS: “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 statement continued: “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 unity.”

Yellow Horse hopes the community is served well under the ambulance service’s new leadership.

“The way we were functioning through the tribe, it wasn’t what the people deserved, and we were all doing the best we could,” she told KOTA TV. “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.”

Kevin Killer, Oglala Sioux Tribe president, said the reassumption of the ambulance service by IHS was unlawful.

“This was not a decision or action of the Oglala Sioux Tribe,” he said in a statement. “It was entirely the decision of 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.”

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