Navajo Nation President Russell Begaye, center, talks with representatives from the Office of Minority Health. Dr. Matthew Y. C. Lin, deputy assistant secretary for the OMH, is pictured on the left.
Published April 3, 2018
WINDOW ROCK — On Thursday, Mar. 29, President Russell Begaye met with Dr. Matthew Y. C. Lin, deputy assistant secretary for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ (HHS) Office of Minority Health (OMH) to discuss partnerships to improve Navajo health care services.
“On the Navajo Nation, we have many issues that affect the health care of our people,” President Begaye said. “Our nation is vast and road conditions can be bad, causing transportation issues for our elders. We have major issues with uranium contamination, cancer and a need for oncology centers. We now face opioid related deaths and addiction issues.”
Because of the Nation’s size in both land base and population, President Begaye told Dr. Lin that the Nation is working toward a 51st state concept regarding health care.
“As a nation, we provide health services like those of a state. We want to run our own Medicaid,” he said. “Currently, the Navajo Nation is pursuing its own managed care organization (MCO).”
Dr. Lin said he sees the disparities between federal and tribal health care facilities and that it’s OMH’s responsibility to improve people’s lives through health care.
“There is room for improvement but we need to work together, shoulder-to-shoulder, to make changes. We are here to learn from you,” Dr. Lin said. “There is disparity here and we want to see what we can do together to get our mission done.”
The meeting took place in the State Room of the Office of the President and Vice President and was attended by representatives from the Navajo Department of Health, U.S. HHS and OMH, the Navajo Nation Washington Office, the Navajo Epidemiology Center and Navajo Area IHS.
Following a tour of the Tsehootsooi Medical Center, the OMH representatives visited Tsaile to meet with Vice President Jonathan Nez and Diné College President Charles “Monty” Roessel.
“We view these social problems plaguing our nation as monsters,” Vice President Nez said at the meeting. “Today we’re fighting these modern-day monsters on a daily basis with education and our traditional way of life teachings. These resources are weapons for our younger generations.”
Diné College has established a bachelor’s degree program in public health in an effort to train more health professionals for careers on the Navajo Nation. Roessel brought up the possibility of collaborating with OMH to provide more opportunity for students.
“Healthcare is a huge challenge for us on the reservation,” Roessel said. “Diné College is trying to address that with a new public health program. The more we can partner with others the better.”
Regarding the tour, Roessel said, “There’s no better way for (OMH) to understand our issues and challenges than coming out to see firsthand what the people experience. We hope that Diné College will be part of a solution.”
The OMH delegation also attended the Diné Bich’iiya’ Summit at Diné College and viewed a presentation on yucca research.
“These are some of the things that are happening here on the Navajo Nation,” President Begaye said. “We are moving toward expanding our services to improve the delivery and care as it affects our nation’s health.”
President Begaye and Vice President Nez thanked Dr. Lin and the attending representatives for their visit to the Navajo Nation.