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Dalton Walker 
Indian Country Today

A bipartisan group of Arizona lawmakers is demanding answers from the leader of the Indian Health Service after one of its largest hospitals stopped offering birthing services.

The Phoenix Indian Medical Center, which operates under the federal agency, shut down its inpatient obstetrics services Aug. 26. The closure was sudden and without public notice, leaving dozens of moms scrambling to find birthing services elsewhere.

On Friday, after Indian Country Today reported on the shutdown, the hospital posted on its Facebook page that its delivery services were put on hold. It also updated its website to say obstetrical services are being diverted to alternate care facilities.

In an Oct. 21 letter to Indian Health Service Director Michael Weahkee, eight of Arizona’s 11 congressional delegates asked for additional information about the closure and what the Indian Health Service is providing for affected patients.

“In light of the significant impact this could have on Native American families in our state and throughout the region, we are requesting further information about the closure and when Indian Health Service (HIS) expects to resume these services at PIMC or an alternative facility,” the letter said.

The lawmakers noted they were especially concerned with ensuring that affected Native mothers receive “sufficient outreach and support from IHS, and experience affordable and high-quality continuity of care.”

Indian Health Service officials briefed the Arizona delegation in September of the closure, according to the letter.

(Previous: Birthing center closure: ‘My baby and I felt abandoned’)

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It was signed by Rep. Ruben Gallego, chairman of the Subcommittee for Indigenous Peoples; Sens. Kyrsten Sinema and Martha McSally; and Reps. Raúl Grijalva, Tom O'Halleran, David Schweikert, Greg Stanton and Ann Kirkpatrick.

“I’m very concerned about the closure of PIMC’s birthing center, especially amid a pandemic that has made it more important than ever for Native people to access quality health care,” Gallego said in a statement Monday. “IHS must ensure that this closure is short-lived and that all those families who are affected receive proactive outreach and continuity of care, and that they have their costs covered.”

Chairman Ruben Gallego, D-Ariz., speaks during a Subcommittee for Indigenous Peoples of the United States oversight hearing on destruction at the border wall on Feb. 26. (Photo courtesy of House Committee on Natural Resources: Democrats)

In a statement last week, the Indian Health Service said the closure is temporary and related to “facility infrastructure, equipment and challenges with staffing.” It did not provide a reopening date or answer questions about how the hospital is advising mothers-to-be who rely on its inpatient obstetrics services.

The Phoenix Indian Medical Center, near downtown, provides health care and community health services to more than 140,000 people from the greater Phoenix area.

It has offered prenatal and birthing service for decades.

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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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