Finances being put first, Indian hospital patients in Lawton complain

Sunday, August 11th 2002, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

LAWTON, Okla. (AP) _ Finances are coming first at Lawton Indian Hospital and potentially dangerous conditions are going untreated, patients and officials say.

``We have people dying because they can't get referrals,'' Caddo Chairwoman LaRue Parker said. ``They start with life-or-death cases, and there generally isn't enough money to cover those. I don't know what else to say. Our Indian people are dying.''

An Oklahoma City spokesman for the Indian Health Service confirmed a lack of funding is stopping treatment for some patients.

``That's the frustrating part for administrators,'' said Steve Barse. ``There just hasn't been the funding to operate the way they would like to operate. But that's really out of their hands.''

Many patients have stories to tell.

Calvin Williams, 76, of Anadarko is a member of the Caddo tribe who began going to an Indian health clinic last year for pain in his head. He was given an over-the-counter medicine and sent home. There was not money for a second opinion.

``I was told there was no money to send me out,'' Williams said. ``They just told me to keep taking the medicine, but the pain was hard. Some nights I couldn't sleep. Finally, one day I passed out at a friend's house.''

Doctors at another hospital found five quarter-size, cancerous tumors in his head. Williams says he is now cancer-free after six months of chemotherapy.

``I could have dropped dead and never would have known I had cancer,'' Williams said. ``I wasn't treated at the Anadarko clinic. Instead, they got on my case for going outside for help. One doctor said I wasn't thinking about the money.''

Caddo tribal member Tommy Kionute smashed his right foot in a drilling accident at work earlier this year. His request to see a specialist was denied 13 days later at the Lawton Indian Hospital because of funding shortages. Kionute made his own appointment with an Oklahoma City physician.

``The doctor took one look at my foot and said, 'Your doctors waited too long,''' Kionute said. ``They told me gangrene had set in and my foot had to be amputated.''

Surgeons cut off the lower half of Kionute's right foot the next day.

``A patient's medical needs are secondary to the money,'' Kionute said.