New Kayenta hospital behind schedule

By Cindy Yurth
Tséyi' Bureau

KAYENTA, March 1, 2012

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(Times photo - Cindy Yurth)

The new Kayenta Alternative Rural Hospital, laid out in the shape of a "K," will be nearly 20 times bigger than Kayenta's existing IHS clinic and employ more than two-and-a-half times as many people. It is currently under construction near the intersection of highways 163 and 160.

Y es, work has slowed down on the new 10-bed IHS hospital at the intersection of U.S. highways 160 and 163. And no, there isn't a problem.

"We're just waiting on the federal budget process," explained Glenna Manymulesbitsoi, planner for the Navajo Nation's Division of Health. "There's usually some lag time on federal projects between fiscal year budgets."

When the Times visited the construction site with Manymulesbitsoi last Wednesday, only five guys in hard hats could be counted working on the structure.

The townsfolk have started to notice the slow pace and Manymulesbitsoi said drastic rumors have been getting back to her ... that funding has dried up or a major flaw has been found in the construction.

"I don't know where they're coming from and none of them are true," she said of the rumors. "The contractor has slowed the construction way down to stretch out the funds he has in hand while we wait for the new budget to be approved. The project is on the priority list and there's no question it will be completed."

It has definitely been delayed, however, and not for the first time. Kayenta was first placed on the IHS priority list for a new hospital in 2004, thanks to the efforts of a local steering committee.

In 2007, the design was expanded after Rep. Rick Renzi, R-Ariz., was able to convince Congress to appropriate more funds.

Acquiring the land was relatively easy by Navajo standards - "We really appreciate that all of the grazing permit holders were willing to relinquish it," Manymulesbitsoi noted - but still there were the usual archeological clearances and other red tape.

Construction started last year. Steering committee member Bobby Singer was reluctant to project a completion date, seeing as how the hospital was supposed to be nearly finished by now.

But things will soon be back on track, promised Manymulesbitsoi. Some $28 million of the $150 million needed to complete the facility has been appropriated, and the bulk of the rest is expected in this fiscal year's budget.

Thirty people have been employed at the site already and many more jobs are coming as soon as the money is released - though nowhere near enough for the 3,100 people who have applied for them via LDS Employment Services.

Counting both Navajo Nation and IHS staff, the completed facility will employ 467 people and house 129 on site. That's more than double the present clinic staff of about 200.

If the community can hold on a little longer, promised Manymulesbitsoi, it will have a much-needed state-of-the-art small hospital to replace the 10,700-square-foot clinic now serving 17,796 residents of Kayenta and the surrounding communities.

While the present clinic, built in 1959, can't keep patients overnight, the new 186,000-square-foot facility will have 10 beds, including a three-bed birthing unit. Departments will include outpatient surgery, radiology, dental and eye clinics, environmental and community health. There will also be a wellness center.

In deference to Kayenta's nickname, "K-Town," its hospital will be in the shape of a letter "K," with a long rectangular portion out of which will emerge two slanting wings.

It will be three stories tall, but the partial third story will house cooling equipment and such and won't be usable by staff and patients - a rather sad waste of its stunning views toward Monument Valley.

"It's going to be beautiful," enthused Manymulesbitsoi.

That might be why it's generating so many rumors.

"I think people are so excited about it, and it's so needed, that they're afraid it's not going to happen," the planner theorized. "Don't worry, the IHS isn't just going to put up a frame and leave."

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