The Crownpoint Health Care Facility remains open for outpatient services, and its urgent care clinic is open seven days a week during daytime hours. But if patients need the emergency room, inpatient care, or labor and delivery services, they’re being sent to the next closest facilities. For most people, that means an hour’s drive southwest to Gallup, New Mexico, or two hours southeast to Albuquerque.
“It’s kind of scary,” said Rita Capitan, president of the Crownpoint Chapter where the hospital is located. ”That was the first thing that popped into my mind. What about people who need something urgent? Someone in a very serious situation might not make it because we can’t get it together over here.”
Capitan, Thoreau Chapter President Charley Long Sr., and Council Delegate Leonard Tsosie (Baca/Prewitt, Casamero Lake, Counselor, Littlewater, Ojo Encino, Pueblo Pintado, Torreon, Whitehorse Lake) met with officials from Navajo Area Indian Health Services recently in an effort to address the underlying issues.
John Hubbard, the Navajo Area IHS director, blamed the hospital’s issues partly on a nationwide shortage of qualified doctors and nurses, and noted that many doctors and nurses leave the Navajo Nation for higher paying jobs in cities.
Capitan has her own ideas why doctors, nurses and other staff members leave. “I’ve heard that it’s due to a housing shortage, but some staff say that’s not true and that it’s the administration,” said Capitan. The Crownpoint Chapter passed a resolution on June 16 asking the IHS and Navajo Nation Health Department to re-assign Crownpoint hospital’s CEO, Anslem Roanhorse.
Hospital officials are directing questions to the IHS, but IHS officials did not comment directly on the resolution.
“The agency is exploring multiple strategies to recruit and maintain qualified staff, which include contracting services, seeking housing options, and increasing training for current staff,” wrote IHS Spokesperson Theresa Eisenman in an email. “IHS is completing a formal review of operations at Crownpoint Hospital.”
Calling the shutdown a “life or death situation,” Delegate Tsosie recommended that chapter officials meet with the Navajo Housing Authority to develop high-quality housing for medical personnel near the Crownpoint hospital. He also recommended that gas vouchers be provided to community members to travel to other hospitals until the facility reopens completely.
Hubbard said the IHS’ top priority is now to reopen the emergency room services at the facility as soon as possible. According to Jared Touchin, spokesman for the Navajo Nation Office of the Speaker, Hubbard reiterated this priority to the Navajo Nation Council’s Naabik’iyátí’ Committee on June 25, but did not provide any new findings or recommendations from IHS’ ongoing review.