Tierna Unruh-Enos is publisher at The Paper.


It sat desolate with doors shuttered for several months during the worst pandemic this country has seen, but Indian Health Services, the federal agency overseeing medical services for Native communities, has reopened the Acoma Cañoncito Laguna (ACL) Hospital for the tribal communities. After a media blitz and public outcry, IHS made the decision to stay open until Jan. 31, 2021 to provide 24/7 emergency assistance during the COVID-19 crises.

Previously, IHS said they had made the decision to shutter the only medical facility that provides critical emergency medical services due to lack of funding. It’s also the only hospital in that long stretch of I-40 that can treat patients with emergency needs due to COVID-19. Pueblo residents from all three tribal communities (Cañoncito is now To’hajiilee) had to travel to Albuquerque for all medical needs, including emergency situations.

The decision to reopen came as a surprise to Acoma Pueblo administration. “We received the same flyer that was posted on social media letting us know about the decision to open the facility and extend the medical staff contracts through January,” said Director of Acoma Behavioral Health and Social Services Tanya Lewis. Lewis also serves on the COVID Task Force for Acoma Pueblo.

Administrators were given no warning, nor have they been given instructions on what the next steps are for the only medical facility serving the 24-mile stretch of I-40 just west of Albuquerque. “While we’re happy about the extension, and it’s needed to help ease the pressure on area hospitals, we feel like we were just thrown a bone.” said Lewis. “IHS has not provided any other information on what their plan is.”

IHS has not met with Pueblo administrators on the next plan of action or discussed whether the hospital will remain open past Jan. 31. Acoma officials were told the decision to remain open was to help with the influx of COVID patients during the winter months so they don’t need to travel to Albuquerque. Unfortunately, there will continue to be medical needs for COVID patients past the Jan. 31 deadline.

Although Acoma officials feel it is a small victory, it’s simply a Band-Aid at this point. “It has opened up the discussion for emergency medical services for the three pueblos, but we feel a plan of action needs to be presented to the three pueblos as to the intention of IHS with regard to needs of the people it serves.” said Lewis.