By Chris Ramirez and Tom Szymanski

UNM Hospital’s Commitment to Native American Care

With the end of November, Native American Heritage Month comes to a close, but The University of New Mexico Hospital’s commitment and dedication to providing high-quality health care to Indigenous People remains a top priority all year long.   

“When you talk about Native American Heritage Month, we are a product of Native American heritage as a hospital,” said Kate Becker, CEO of UNM Hospital.  “We have a year-round focus on outreach to Native communities and ensuring our Native people have access to our services.” 

Kate Becker

We are a product of Native American heritage as a hospital. We have a year-round focus on outreach to Native communities and ensuring our Native people have access to our services.

Kate Becker, CEO, UNM Hospital

The UNM Hospital’s Native American Health Services team honored the heritage month with a series of events for patients, providers, staff, and the public to enjoy.  The events included:

  • A Native American Market at UNM Hospital where Native artisans had an opportunity to display and sell their crafts.
  • A wonderful performance by the Cloud Eagle Seasonal Dance Group at UNM Sandoval Regional Medical Center, comprised of members of the Jemez and Zuni Pueblos.
  • A “Rock Your Mocs” event at UNM Hospital.  This global event encourages Native Americans to show off their moccasins for a day.  Participants received oven bread, cookies, and pies.  
  • A beautiful performance on the UNM Hospital Pavilion Plaza by the Zuni Olla Maidens Dance Group.  These women from the Zuni Pueblo dance with pottery balanced on their heads. 
  • An amazing performance by the Ryedale Largo & Diné Navajo/Mescalero Apache Dance Group at UNM Hospital.  These dances showcased the traditional dances of their Navajo and Mescalero Apache Tribes.  

As November turns to December and Native American Heritage Month ends, UNM Hospital’s focus remains on ensuring Native Americans in New Mexico can access the highest level of health care no matter where they live.  It’s a commitment that dates back to 1952. 

The 1952 federal contract is an agreement between the Indian Health Service (IHS), known then as the Bureau of Indian Affairs of the US Department of the Interior, and Bernalillo County. That contract created the Bernalillo County – Indian Hospital (BC-IH), a hospital dedicated to the care of both Native American patients and Bernalillo County patients. 

When UNM School of Medicine selected BC-IH as its teaching hospital, it ensured that the hospital would not only treat Native American and County patients, but also educate and train future generations of health care workers to continue providing patient care.  That is the UNM Hospital we know today.  While the face of health care looks significantly different today compared to 1952, UNM Hospital’s dedication to Native care has only grown.     

“We’re really proud of the work our Native American Health Services team does,” said Becker.  “What the team does is create connections. When we have Native American patients in the hospital, they visit with them and ensure all their needs are being met.”

The hospital’s language services team works to make sure both patients and providers fully understand each other by providing free 24/7 interpretations in person, by phone, or by video in more than 200 different languages, including several Native languages.  UNM Hospital is one of the only hospitals in the country with a team of 24/7 Navajo interpreters.  

Additionally, the Native American Health Services provides outreach year-round to Native American communities to ensure that the hospital is truly listening to what the unique health care needs of each community are.   

“In our most recent meetings, one theme that emerged was the need for increased behavioral health care, so at our most recent Tribal consultation, we spent a lot of time having experts in the behavioral health field talk about resources that are available, especially resources that don’t cost additional funding and are available remotely.  That’s important, particularly for the Tribes that are far from Albuquerque, but still need to access those resources and services.”

Additionally, the UNM Hospital Appointment Center priorities access to admissions and outpatient clinic appointments, coordinates patient care and acts as a community liaison to help manage and coordinate appointments, coordinates referrals from other IHS clinics and health care providers and helps resolves any concerns that may arise. 

The Native American Health Services team also works with UNM Hospital staff and providers to help educate them on how to best serve Native Americans.   

“The people who work at UNM Hospital really could work anywhere.  The level of skill they have is incredible, but the reason they stay with us is because they love the people here and they love the mission.  Their hearts are really in this work,” Becker said.  

That mission of creating a more equitable health care landscape for Native Americans has been a focus for UNM Hospital for more than seven decades and will remain a priority for generations to come. 

Categories: Community Engagement , Top Stories , UNM Hospital