Tribe taking over Gallup Detox Center

By Bill Donovan
Special to the Times

WINDOW ROCK, Oct. 10, 2013

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The Gallup Detox Center will soon have a new operator - the Navajo Nation.

The Gallup City Council Tuesday approved an agreement with the tribe's Behavioral Health Department to turn over operation of the center to the department on Nov. 4. The agreement, which still has to be approved by the Navajo Nation, calls for the city and county, however, to help finance the cost of the center in the future.

The agreement calls for the tribe to provide $350,000 to bring the center up to standards, while Gallup agrees to provide another $320,000 for the same purpose.

After that, the city and county agree to each provide 10 percent of their share of the county's liquor excise tax to fund the program. This is expected to bring in $220,000 a year toward its operation.

The Navajo Nation would be required to come up with the rest of the operating expenses, which was estimated in the past to cost between $450,000 and $500,000 a year.

Erny Zah, director of communications for the Navajo Nation Office of the President and Vice President, said the tribe's portion of the operating costs will come out of an account that the tribe uses to help fund detox centers in border communities.

Since the building will still belong to the city, some expenses dealing with maintaining the building and making sure the utilities are running properly, will continue to be the city's responsibility. The tribal department, however, has the right to make improvements to the building after consulting with the city.

Behavior health officials for the tribe said Tuesday that they are now beginning the preparations to take over the operation of the center.

Theresa Galvin, director for the tribe's behavioral health department, said this marks the first time that the tribe has taken over the operation of any of the detox centers that surround the reservation.

Vera John, a clinical director within the department, has been assigned the task of running the center.

The tribe has already begun the work of preparing for the takeover by discussing what kinds of changes will be made in its operation when the tribe takes over. Galvin said she and others in the department have gone to visit other detox centers in cities like Mesa, Ariz. and Albuquerque to see how they will do it.

The employees at the center now work for the city but after Nov. 4 will work for the tribe and Galvin said that they will all have to reapply for their jobs. The positions will be filled according to tribal hiring policy and Galvin said all of the positions will be advertised.

The decision by the tribe to take the center over answers the question, at least during the five years that the agreement will be in place, of whether the center will continue to be open.

There have been times during the past year when former directors for the center threatened to close it down because of lack of funds.

The first threatened shutdown was early this year and that was diverted when Navajo Nation President Ben Shelly announced that the tribe would provide a one-time grant of $300,000 to keep it only a couple of more months.

When that deadline approached, the city stepped in and agreed to provide funding for six months for a detox center only. Because of that, the rehab portion of the facility was discontinued at the center.

Zah said the center will continue to operate only as a detox center, providing a place for those who are picked up by police for intoxication and keeping them only until they are sober.

Zah pointed out that the tribe has programs, as do others, to help Navajos in Gallup who want to go to rehab programs.

"We have partnerships with some of these rehab centers, such as Friendship House in San Francisco," he said.

Back in April, during one of his quarterly messages to the tribal Council, Shelly stressed the need for the tribe to make sure that the Gallup Detox Center remained open for the safety of tribal members.

"This is something that the tribe felt needed to be done," Zah said, pointing out that the detox center, formerly known as NCI, was started almost 40 years ago because of the death by exposure of 12 Natives during one cold winter.

Gallup Mayor Jackie McKinney said Tuesday he was extremely happy about the agreement, pointing out that this is the first time that the city, county and Navajo Nation have entered into an agreement to help residents of this area.

Other detox centers in border communities in Arizona have also experienced funding problems in recent months but this doesn't mean that the tribe is in a position to take over their operation, said Galvan, at least not at this time.

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