New Indian Health Service director confirmed

Kalle Benallie

Rear Adm. Michael Weahkee, Zuni Pueblo, will oversee a health care system responsible for roughly 2.6 million American Indians and Alaskan Natives.

Kalle Benallie

Indian Country Today

The Indian Health Service has a new director: Rear Adm. Michael Weahkee, Zuni Pueblo.

Weahkee was confirmed by the Senate on Tuesday. His responsibilities include administering a health care program responsible for approximately 2.6 million American Indians and Alaskan Natives across the country.

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said in a statement: “As we combat the COVID-19 pandemic, which has already posed a serious threat to Indian Country, I am thankful to have Admiral Weahkee leading IHS and overseeing the work being done by heroic IHS staff on the front lines.”

Weahkee was born on the Navajo Nation and grew up as a direct service user of IHS, according to his bio.

He was a public health specialist in the Air Force and served as chief executive officer of the Phoenix Indian Medical Center. He also worked in numerous positions at the Indian Health Service headquarters and received two IHS national director’s awards.

An IHS spokesperson did not immediately respond to a request for a comment, but Weahkee said in a tweet, “It is an honor to be confirmed in this role, and I am grateful for the outpour of support that I have received from across Indian Country.”

He will serve for four years and manage the Indian Health Services’ administration of health care programs and services, including its approximately $7.4 billion budget and 15,000 employees.

U.S. Sen. John Hoeven, chairman of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, said in a statement that Weahkee is especially needed during the COVID-19 pandemic, and IHS must continue to quickly aid tribal communities.

“Rear Admiral Weahkee is a strong leader, who has committed to help the agency fulfill its treaty and trust responsibilities to the many American Indian and Alaskan Natives receiving health care services from the IHS,” the North Dakota Republican said. 

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