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Dalton Walker
Indian Country Today

The Indian Health Service has shut down key services at a hospital in Acoma Pueblo, according to New Mexico tribal officials, including one who called the move “reckless” and “immoral.”

The Acoma-Canoncito-Laguna Service Unit in Acoma, about 60 miles west of Albuquerque, no longer offers emergency room and in-patient services for non-COVID-19 patients, the Pueblo of Acoma Office of the Governor said in a release.

“It is a complete abandonment by the Indian Health Service of its legal responsibilities to the People of Acoma during this global pandemic,” Acoma Gov. Brian Vallo said in a statement on Friday. “Why the IHS made this decision at this time and under these conditions is baffling.”

In this March 21, 2019 file photo, Acoma Pueblo Gov. Brian Vallo poses outside the Pueblo's cultural center about 60 miles west of Albuquerque, New Mexico. A ceremonial shield at the center of a yearslong international debate over exporting of sacred Native American objects to foreign markets has returned to New Mexico. U.S. and Acoma Pueblo officials planned Monday, Nov. 18 to announce the shield’s return from Paris, where it had been listed for bidding in 2016 before the EVE auction house took the rare step of halting its sale. “It will be a day of high emotion and thanksgiving,” Vallo said ahead of the shield’s expected return to his tribe. (AP Photo/Felicia Fonseca, File)

The hospital serves around 9,100 tribal citizens from Acoma and Laguna pueblos, according to the Indian Health Service website. It has 126,000 patient visits each year.

The hospital’s services related to the coronavirus are already limited to quarantining and testing, Acoma Pueblo spokesman Jonathan Sims told Indian Country Today. Serious coronavirus cases are referred out, he said.

The pueblo, of about 3,000 citizens, has seen a recent spike in coronavirus cases, including 100 in early November, according to the news release.

A request for comment from the Indian Health Service wasn’t immediately returned.

The federal agency is also under fire in Arizona after its largest hospital shut down its inpatient obstetrics services in August. The closure at the Phoenix Indian Medical Center was sudden and without public notice, leaving dozens of moms scrambling to find birthing services elsewhere. It also resulted in eight of Arizona’s 11 congressional delegates demanding answers from Indian Health Service Director Michael Weahkee.

The Acoma-Canoncito-Laguna Service Unit has 25 in-patient beds. According to the IHS website, the hospital focuses its services on prevention, with “primary programs including public health nursing, nutritional services, social services, behavioral health, mental health services, substance abuse, health education and environmental health services”

Vallo said Acoma Pueblo sent a joint letter to Indian Health Service and New Mexico’s congressional delegation, saying it’s “imperative” that the hospital retains necessary health care during the pandemic.

“When every minute counts and every critical moment is a matter of life or death, this is not the time to shut down a full-service hospital, especially during this out-of-control pandemic,” Vallo said. “The Indian Health Service carried out its underhanded actions without any meaningful consultation with the Pueblo. It also failed to adequately inform Congress, a federal requirement.”

Recent Indian Health Service coverage:

Birthing center closure: 'My baby and I felt abandoned'

Lawmakers demand answers in birthing center closure

Ex-hospital CEO questions leadership in obstetrics closure

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Dalton Walker, Red Lake Anishinaabe, is a national correspondent at Indian Country Today. Follow him on Twitter: @daltonwalker Walker is based in Phoenix and enjoys Arizona winters.

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