Dalton Walker
Indian Country Today

The new leader of the largest hospital under the Indian Health Service wants to bring back its birthing center after services were shuttered roughly a year ago.

James Driving Hawk, Rosebud Sioux Tribe, was named Phoenix Indian Medical Center’s new chief executive officer in August.

The sudden shutdown of inpatient obstetrics services in August 2020 left an unknown number of expectant parents scrambling to seek birthing services elsewhere. Now, those services could return to PIMC.

James Driving Hawk, Rosebud Sioux Tribe, is named the new chief executive of the Phoenix Indian Medical Center in August 2021. (Photo courtesy of Indian Health Service)

“I think bringing those services back on site and having babies born in that facility again is something we need to see,” Driving Hawk told Indian Country Today. “I know our community would appreciate that, but we're going to do it the right way and we're going to do it the safe way, and making sure that facility will support that, the staff will support that. And we're providing a quality, safe care to those patients when we expand that.”

Last year’s closure left more questions than answers, sparked protests and included a letter to the federally run agency demanding answers from a bipartisan group of Arizona lawmakers. Indian Health Service initially said the closure was temporary, but didn’t provide a reopening date, and that the closure was related to “facility infrastructure, equipment and challenges with staffing.”

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Driving Hawk said he was aware of two services that the hospital stopped offering in 2020, one being obstetrics services and the other being the operating room. He said the operating room is back open; obstetrics services are being offered, but off-site.

“What I’m being told is that they’re looking and working hard to bring those services back on site,” Driving Hawk said.

It’s not known how many expectant moms were turned away from the facility in Phoenix, an area known for its large urban Native population. The facility provides services for more than 150,000 people.

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Driving Hawk has more than 23 years of service to Indian Health Service and has been the Great Plains Area Office director since 2019. Before, he served as executive officer of the Phoenix-area office.

IHS Acting Director Elizabeth Fowler said Driving Hawk’s “wealth of knowledge and experience will be a true asset for the Phoenix Indian Medical Center.”

Driving Hawk’s official first day at PIMC is Sept. 27.

Indian Country Today was first to report on the birthing center closing and its aftermath. The coverage won awards from the Native American Journalists Association.

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