After public outcry and a legal fight, the Indian Health Service agreed to keep emergency departments and hospital care open for another year at a northwestern New Mexico hospital serving 9,100 tribal citizens, settling in less temporarily a dispute that had turned into lightning. update between tribal communities and the federal government on the quality and accessibility of health care.
The deal was reached after a lawsuit in federal court in the District of Columbia in January accused the Indian Health Service of failing to provide Congress with proper notice and details before cutting services to the Acoma-Cañoncito-Laguna hospital during the coronavirus pandemic.
The proposed cuts had drawn more attention to what tribal leaders say is the agency’s long trend of providing poor care to some of the country’s poorest communities, a situation that has only been exacerbated during the worst of the pandemic last year.
“This is an important victory for the Pueblo,” said Brian D. Vallo, governor of the Pueblo Acoma. “It is unfortunate that we have had to sue the Indian Health Service in order to restore the medical services and health care that Acoma and the other surrounding tribal communities desperately need and rely on.”
The Indian Health Service, an agency of the Department of Health and Human Services based in Rockville, Maryland, agreed to keep the services open until February 2022. In return, the Pueblo d’Acoma agreed to drop its legal action against the agency.
The agreement gives the Acoma Pueblo one year to develop and implement a plan for the hospital and regional health care, in partnership with the Indian Health Service.
In February, a Federal District judge in the District of Columbia granted a temporary restraining order preventing the health agency from making larger cuts. The order was due to expire once the two parties reached an agreement on the future of the Acoma-Cañoncito-Laguna hospital.
President Biden has supported providing more aid to tribal communities, including more funding for the Indian health service.
Mr Vallo declared a state of emergency last year after announcing proposed cuts during a pandemic that had a disproportionate effect on Native Americans. Native Americans across the country had higher death rates than any other racial or ethnic group in the country.
As New Mexico hospital services were cut last year, coronavirus cases have increased statewide and hospital beds have declined. Patients were forced to drive 60 miles east to Albuquerque for serious medical problems.
Jonathan Sims, a spokesperson for the Pueblo, said one caveat was that India’s health service had not promised to keep those departments open beyond the February 2022 deadline.
“What’s going to happen is over the next year, IHS will engage in good faith discussions with the tribe and start looking for how best to coordinate money and resources in order to bring the hospital to its best level. capacity, ”said Mr. Sims.
The hospital is operated by the Indian Health Service, whose mission is to provide health care services to eligible Native American Indians and Alaska Natives.
The federal agency has received a lot of criticism from members of Congress about its response to the pandemic. The decision to cut services angered New Mexico state officials and some influential members of Congress.
Home Secretary Deb Haaland, then representing New Mexico in the House, slammed India’s health service at the time for a proposal she said put “lives at risk.”
The Indian Health Service plans to consult with affected tribes to redevelop services at Acoma-Cañoncito-Laguna Hospital to reflect patient needs and budget once the deadline has passed.
In a statement, the agency pledged to provide quality health care to all patients served by the Acoma-Cañoncito-Laguna Hospital.
“The facility continues to provide 24/7 emergency services to any IHS recipient, and continues to provide primary care services,” the statement said.