IHS funding promised to fully staff Four Corners Medical Center

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RED MESA, Ariz. - After nearly 30 years of prayer, planning and work, local residents here acknowledged that the positive answer they sought had finally come.

On April 4, Navajo Nation President Joe Shirley Jr. and first lady Vikki Shirley joined Navajo Nation Council delegates, local officials and about 500 residents and visitors for the dedication of the new $64 million Four Corners Medical Center at Red Mesa. Together they thanked IHS Director Dr. Charles Grim for the additional $15 million necessary to fully staff the facility.

''My brother,'' Joe Shirley said to Grim, ''we're requiring money, and he said, 'Here it is.'''

Grim, who visited Navajo Area IHS facilities in early April, said he was pleased to announce the area office will receive the funding in the next few weeks. The funding will be used to pay for personnel and bring to 215 the number of full-time staff, he said.

''This has got to be one of the most rewarding parts of my job,'' he said, standing before the new center, which partially opened in January.

Grim said the planning and design has created one of the most functional and beautiful of any medical center in the country, public or private. The medical center's interior design reflects Navajo culture, with the lobby's eight-sided cedar dome representing a traditional hogan. The main lobby's floor design incorporates the four sacred colors of the Navajo; white, blue, yellow and black, and represents the four sacred mountains embracing Navajoland. The building's entrance canopy supports are faced with sandstone to symbolize the Red Mesa just to the north of the medical center.

The new 118,000-square-foot medical center will support a comprehensive outpatient health care program with a range of ambulatory care, community health, mental health, 24 dental chairs and a 24-hour emergency room.

''This is a tremendous achievement,'' Joe Shirley added. ''It's worth a lot more than money. Finally we have it, and we are truly thankful. It took persistence of our leaders back then to accomplish this even though there were obstacles.''

Joe Shirley acknowledged and thanked the Oldman, Yellowman, Clark, Begay and Kitseallyboy families who unselfishly donated the land needed to build the new medical center. He also presented a Pendleton robe to Grim to thank him for helping see that the Pinon Clinic and the Four Corners Medical Center were constructed.

He said that work continues in order to have the Navajo Nation remain on the IHS national construction priority list to receive health care construction funds for projects at Dilcon and Bodaway/Gap in Arizona and Pueblo Pintado and Gallup in New Mexico.

Dee Hutchison, former administrator for the Alaska Native Medical Center in Anchorage, Alaska, said the new medical center is an excellent example of integrating Western medicine with the desires of the local community.

She said she has found Navajos all over the world when she travels, and each has the power to be healthy through motivation and discipline.

She gave advice to get to know one's body, mind and spirit, and to get into balance. To do that, she said, avoid alcohol, drugs, eating too much, eating too much junk food or watching too much television. Instead, eat smaller quantities, drink more water instead of soda, eat lots of fruits and vegetables, and go for walks.

''All we do to our bodies, we do ourselves,'' she said. ''Nobody does it to us.''