After a public outcry and legal battle, the Indian health service has agreed to keep the emergency room and inpatient care at a hospital in northwest New Mexico open for an additional year to care for 9,100 tribal citizens and at least temporarily resolve a dispute that has resulted in a Blitz had become point between tribal communities and the federal government over the quality and accessibility of health care.
The settlement came after a lawsuit in federal court in the District of Columbia in January accused the Indian Health Service of failing to provide proper notification and details to Congress before services at Acoma-Cañoncito-Laguna Hospital shut down during the coronavirus pandemic were.
The proposed cuts had drawn further attention to what tribal leaders said was the agency’s long pattern of underperforming some of the country’s poorest communities, a situation that only worsened during last year’s worst pandemic.
“This is a significant victory for the pueblo,” said Brian D. Vallo, governor of the Acoma pueblo. “It is unfortunate that we have had to sue the Indian Health Service to restore the medical and healthcare services that Acoma and other surrounding tribal communities desperately need and can rely on.”
The Indian Health Service, a Department of Health agency based in Rockville, Md., Has agreed to keep the services open until February 2022. In return, the Acoma pueblo agreed to drop its lawsuit against the agency.
The agreement gives the Pueblo of Acoma one year to work with the Indian Health Service to develop and establish a plan for the hospital and regional health care.
In February, a District of Columbia federal district judge issued an injunction to prevent the health department from making deeper cuts. The order expired as soon as both sides reached an agreement on the future of the Acoma-Cañoncito-Laguna Hospital.
President Biden has supported the provision of more aid to tribal communities, including more funding for the Indian health service.
Mr Vallo declared a state of emergency last year after the proposed cuts were announced during a pandemic that disproportionately affected Native Americans. Indians across the country had higher death rates than any other race or ethnic group in the country.
When hospital services in New Mexico were reduced last year, coronavirus cases increased across the state and hospital beds shrank. Patients had to drive 60 miles east to Albuquerque because of serious medical problems.
Jonathan Sims, a spokesman for the pueblo, said one caveat was that the Indian health service had not promised to keep these departments open beyond the February 2022 deadline.
“What will happen is over the next year, IHS has good faith talks with the tribe, exploring how to best coordinate the money and resources to bring the hospital to its best and full capacity “Said Sims.
The hospital is operated by the Indian Health Service, whose job it is to provide health services to eligible Alaskan Indians and Natives.
The federal agency received widespread criticism of its pandemic response from members of Congress. The decision to cut services disgruntled New Mexico state officials and some influential members of Congress.
Home Secretary Deb Haaland, who was representing New Mexico in the House of Representatives at the time, criticized the Indian health service for a proposal that “put lives in danger”.
The Indian Health Service plans to consult with the affected tribes to redesign the Acoma Cañoncito Laguna Hospital services to meet patient needs and budget after the deadline.
In a statement, the agency said it is committed to providing quality healthcare to all patients cared for by the Acoma-Cañoncito-Laguna Hospital.
“The facility continues to provide emergency services 24 hours a day, seven days a week for all I.H.S. Beneficiaries and continue to provide basic services, ”the statement said.