On Monday, Nov. 20 the Pueblo of Acoma held a press conference to bring attention to a “health crisis,” which was described as a dangerous combination of the current COVID pandemic and the impending reduction of hospital services at the Acoma-Canoncito-Laguna Urgent Care facility, operated by Indian Health Service (IHS). Since that time IHS has issued its own press release from the office of Rear Admiral Michael Weahkee. The document states that the agency has been working since September in regards to a transition. Apparently, IHS deems less than five months as inadequate time to remove themselves from the situation.
IHS’s solution is described below.
“The contracting tribe or tribal organization may elect to (1) directly hire IHS employees, (2) offer temporary assignment of federal employees under an Intergovernmental Personnel Act agreement, or (3) request assignments of USPHS Commissioned Officer personnel through a Memorandum of Agreement. The tribe or tribal organization may also elect to hire qualified individuals from the general public. In response to this process, a number of IHS employees and contractors have notified the agency of their intent to retire, resign, or transfer to other facilities.”
The Pueblo has had no other choice but to make this a high-visibility situation. The media blitz and a community letter-writing campaign have all been used to put pressure on the regional offices, with more pressure to come at the federal and congressional levels. Pueblo member Bianca Carlisle started a Change.org petition that gained over 500 signatures in three hours and sits currently at 1,800, less than a week later.
“My grandma was one of the patients who couldn't be seen at ACL Hospital and she means the world to me. I couldn’t just sit around and watch this happen. I had to stand up for my family and my people!” When asked about the number of people who have reached out, Carlisle stated, “I have been beyond thankful that people around the world are signing and standing up with us! It means a lot.”
Pueblo of Acoma Governor Brian Vallo stated Saturday that things are starting to move after the Pueblo made it very aware they were intent on making this a public situation. “We had a very encouraging meeting yesterday; although, we do need more specifics on any ‘solutions’ that are brought to the table and are being developed by IHS.”
It will be interesting to watch this matter play out, especially if the Pueblo has made it a point to be vocal and mobilize what resources they have at their disposal. IHS is a notoriously hard target to hit. Acoma is by no means the only tribe with IHS issues. But no one is even trying to hide the fact that IHS has been severely and purposefully gutted of its resources over the last two decades. Can Acoma sway the federal government into action? Will the ACL Hospital, which currently serves 9,000 Indigenous residents, remain open and accessible? If there is one group capable of making that happen, it’s the people of Acoma. [ ]
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