The Indian Health Service consists of 26 hospitals, 56 health centers and 32 health stations and provides care to 2.2 million members of the nation’s tribal communities. The hospitals, scattered across a dozen regions in the country, range in size from four beds to 133.
The service has long faced shortages of funding and supplies, but the pandemic brought those disparities to the fore, contributing to the disproportionally high infection and death rates among Native Americans.
Abigail Echo-Hawk, the director of the Urban Indian Health Institute, said that the Biden administration had the chance to appoint someone who could address those weaknesses. Native American voters, Ms. Echo-Hawk said, helped swing key states in favor of Mr. Biden.
“The rest of the country needs to know that the Indian Health Service has been failing us and previous administrations have failed us,” Ms. Echo-Hawk said. “The Biden administration has the opportunity to bring in someone who is given the support needed to make innovative changes.”
Jonathan Nez, the president of the Navajo Nation, said the Indian Health Service under Admiral Weahkee did the best it could with the limited resources it was given. Mr. Nez said he was confident the incoming administration would work to address the agency’s funding and infrastructure challenges.