WINDOW ROCK, Ariz. — In response to the White House’s announcement that Robert Weaver has withdrawn his name for consideration as director of the Indian Health Service (IHS), the Navajo Nation president called on the Trump administration to fill the position.
“We are a year and a quarter into this new administration and we still don’t have a leader for IHS,” said Navajo Nation President Begaye. “This is unacceptable. We need a leader who understands the health issues that Indian country faces, as well as policies and procedures that govern our health care facilities.”
IHS hasn’t had a permanent director in place since 2015, and National Indian Health Board (NIHB) Chairman Vinton Hawley said he is disappointed the position remains vacant.
“Without permanent leadership in place, it’s very difficult for IHS to set long-term policy, engage with tribes on an equal footing and uphold the federal government’s trust responsibility,” Hawley said.
The Office of the President and Vice President (OPVP) has worked with the Navajo Department of Health to conduct public health forums to address community concerns and health care needs that exist throughout Navajo IHS facilities.
“Our Nation still battles the monsters of cancer, diabetes and addiction,” said Vice President Jonathan Nez. “We’ve listened to the voices of our people who have said that we need more specialized, accountable and quality care. In order for these changes to come about, we need more interaction and communication with a permanent IHS director and we haven’t had this.”
Begaye urged the Trump administration to seek a director who has a holistic and comprehensive understanding of Navajo health issues.
“For Navajo, we need oncology centers and heart disease centers,” he said. “We need to be able to provide residencies for doctors finishing medical school and to facilitate student loan reimbursement through service placement programs within our hospitals.”
Having assessed the health care needs that exist on the Navajo Nation, OPVP has moved forward to establish a Navajo Managed Care Organization (MCO), which would be the first of its kind in Indian country.
According to Begay, with its own health care insurance company, the Navajo Nation would have greater control over Navajo health care systems. A Navajo MCO would provide coverage for needs that are specific to Navajo, such as access to traditional healers, assistance with the cost of transportation and more.
“We need an IHS director that will visit our health facilities and understand our need to implement a Navajo MCO,” Begaye said. “We need a director who will empower tribes to develop their own healthcare systems.”
The Trump administration announced Weaver as its pick for IHS director Oct. 6, 2017. The withdrawal of his nomination comes after the Wall Street Journal printed an article that detailed allegations of employment misrepresentation and financial mismanagement.