Community’s Loss of Hospital Stirs Fresh Debate Over Indian Health Service


The hospital is federally run by the Indian Health Service, based in Rockville, Md. The agency was created to carry out the government’s treaty obligations to provide health care services to eligible American Indians and Alaskan Natives.

Situated 60 miles west of Albuquerque, the Acoma-Cañoncito-Laguna Service Unit serves about 126,000 patients a year. Before scaling back its services, it had 25 inpatient beds and served around 9,100 tribal citizens from the surrounding tribes. The hospital has been in operation since the mid-1970s and provided inpatient and outpatient care, along with dental, optometry, pharmaceutical and medical emergency services.

Coronavirus cases for the Acoma Pueblo, which has about 3,000 citizens, have spiked recently, including 100 in early November after zero reported cases in September.

The office in the Albuquerque area is one of I.H.S.’s 12 service regions and serves 20 Pueblos, two Apache bands, three Navajo chapters and two Ute tribes across four southwest states. There are five hospitals, 11 health centers and 12 field clinics serving the residents of the area.

Wendy Sarracino, 57, a community health representative for the Acoma people, said that when her son broke his leg, she had to stop at two hospital before he could receive the care he needed. At the time of his injury, the Acoma-Cañoncito-Laguna service unit hospital had already closed for the day so Ms. Sarracino drove her son 45 minutes to Grants.

But after the hospital failed to diagnosed the multiple fractures in her son’s legs, Ms. Sarracino drove him another hour to Albuquerque. The hospital in Grants found only a single fracture in her son’s leg, but at the hospital in Albuquerque, an X-ray found multiple fractures in both legs.

“That was kind of our lifeline,” Ms. Sarracino said of the hospital. “We didn’t have to go very far for health care. An awareness needs to be made that people do live in rural New Mexico and we need health care.”