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Spotlight: Early Health Center survey responses address accessibility, turnover, callbacks

Health Services-JWS
The Southern Ute Indian Tribal Council is currently reviewing options and making plans for the future of the tribal health care system. To highlight the council’s efforts and increase awareness of the history and nature of the system as it exists today, and perhaps provide a look at where it might go, the Drum presents a package of stories on its past, present and future.
Photo Credit: Ace Stryker | The Southern Ute Drum

Editor’s note: For more stories from our Spotlight on Tribal Health series, click here.

Responses to the Southern Ute Indian Tribe’s Health Clinic vs. Wellness Center Survey, sent out earlier this month, are beginning to come in — and an early review suggests tribal members want a more stable and responsive health care system.

The Southern Ute Indian Tribal Council is seeking tribal-member opinions on the future of the tribal health system. Among the options the council is considering are options to build a new health clinic, a new wellness center, or a hybrid. As part of the process, the council has contracted with Dyron Murphy Architects for an external needs assessment. The Tribal Planning Department is also playing a lead role in the process.

From an early batch of 15 surveys returned, 11 respondents said they or their family members currently use the Health Center, while 10 said they currently use the tribe’s wellness facilities, such as the SunUte Community Center, Ignacio Senior Center or Multi-purpose Facility.

Of those who suggested improvements, very few addressed shortcomings in the tribe’s wellness offerings. On the health care side, though, virtually every respondent had something to say.

Most common on the list of perceived problems was a lack of continuity when dealing with doctors.

“I would like to be seen by the same doctor and not a stranger,” one respondent wrote. Another said they would like to be seen by “permanent ones who don’t leave after a while.”

More surveys reflected similar wishes: “Consistent health providers.” “Better and more reliable doctors.”

Others named accessibility as a top concern, saying they’ve been turned away in the past when needing treatment.

One tribal elder who uses the Health Center said they had been told once, during a medical emergency, that the clinic had no openings to see them.

“The clinic should be able to stand toe-to-toe with local existing health places,” they wrote.

Another survey echoed that sentiment: “I don’t like being turned down and told to go to the [emergency room]. … It seems like it is booked.”

A third response: “I would like a facility that is capable of meeting all needs, be it general or an emergency, with an appropriate amount of staffing, [one that does not have] to turn anyone away, even if the people want to walk in.”

Another respondent, who uses both the Health Center and SunUte, said they were frustrated by Health Center staffers’ failure to respond to phone calls.

“[The] biggest problem now: Messages to doctors [and] other staff, who don’t have voicemail, [are] not being sent or given to them,” they wrote.

From another survey: “The nurse’s station [should] return phone calls ASAP, not when patients keep calling half a dozen times.”

One survey stood out in stark contrast to the rest, commending the tribe for its various health programs.

“The tribe can make as many improvements as they want. It’s up to the membership to take advantage of them,” wrote the respondent, who said their children use the clinic. “Membership cry and cry about ‘I want, I want,’ but when handed to them they want more. Programs that you have now are good.”

Ten respondents said they believe it’s important to consider Southern Ute cultural ideas when designing a new health care facility. Four said it wasn’t important, and one made no indication.

Suggestions for cultural considerations included the use of creation stories, songs, traditional colors, photos of tribal leaders and youth, and medicinal plants. One respondent said the cultural component is especially important when caring for children, elders and pregnant women.

One tribal elder said they want to see “more tribal members involved with the improvements of both the health [and] wellness programs.”

On the dental side, a community member with tribal-member children suggested a better waiting area for kids.

Other feedback included opinions that the Health Center seems understaffed, that wait times are too long, that staffers’ bedside manner leaves something to be desired, and that the tribe should offer health insurance cards to all its members.

The Tribal Council is encouraging those who haven’t already filled out their surveys to do so. If you don’t already have a survey, you may pick one up at the Leonard C. Burch Building from the council affairs receptionist, Finance Department receptionist (north side), Human Resources Department (north side) or Hall of Warriors receptionist (south side); at the front desks of the Mouache-Capote Building, Southern Ute Health Center or SunUte Community Center; or from the Tribal Planning Department in the Annex Building, second floor.
Surveys may be returned to any of the same places.

Tribal members may also submit a survey online at For more information, or to obtain the password needed to submit the survey online, call the Tribal Planning Department at 970-563-4749 or email

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