David Tonemah is the new Southern Ute Tribal Health Department Director.
David Tonemah is the new Tribal Health Department Director.
Photo Credit: Lindsay Box | SU Tribal Council Affairs
Photo Credit: Lindsay J. Box | Council Affairs
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Tonemah signs on as new Tribal Health Director 

David Tonemah is the new Tribal Health Department Director. He is a member of the Kiowa Tribe of Oklahoma. His unique lineage is half Tuscarora on his mother’s side and half Kiowa Comanche on his father’s side. 

Tonemah has a combined 30 years of experience working in Indian Health.
He worked for Indian Health Service (IHS), a tribally operated health program, and an urban Indian health program – providing health services to Natives living in urban settings. His experience has provided him with a wealth of knowledge, he has seen firsthand how health care is delivered to Indigenous people.  

“I had the opportunity to see the three different perspectives of how health care is delivered to Native people,” Tonemah stated. “
As stewards to this community, we all have that responsibility.” 

Tonemah was the Acting CEO at Hopi Health Care Center, Polacca, Ariz. prior to accepting the position at the Southern Ute Health Center in June. Tonemah received his bachelor’s degree from Oklahoma Baptist University and a master’s degree in Business Administration from the University of Phoenix.  

Tonemah’s personal mission is to improve access and quality of care for the Southern Ute tribal membership and patients of the Southern Ute Health Center. His plan for the department includes increased and improved communication. 

I am committed to giving this community the best health care that we can offer, the health care that they deserve,” Tonemah said. “My goal as the director is to push our staff to do that. One of the main things on my agenda is to improve customer service.” 

“I want better, I want to be the best in universe…why not. Our people deserve the best,” Tonemah emphasized.  

“How do we improve access to care, and quality of care — those are my two drivers.” Tonemah said. “One of the things I am looking at is contracted services. Do we need a cardiologist that we can bring into this community on a once a week, or once a month basis? Addressing these needs, which again speaks to access of health care for this community. We can provide those services here, not having our patients drive to Durango, or Farmington. Transportation is often an issue, do we have enough appointment slots available, are those an issue for this community? 

Tonemah started his position in Ignacio, Monday, June 6. The Southern Ute Tribal Health Director title was previously held by Anita Brock, which was vacated in late 2021. Since that time three individuals have served as interim director for the Southern Ute Health Center, acting directors included Margo Yeager, Dr. Richard Keller, and Charles “Lee” Williamson.  

“I think a lot of people still perceive this place as constantly turning over, but the truth is we have the lowest turnover of any health facility within the region,” Dr. Richard Keller explained. “We have not had a single provider leave in the four years that I’ve been here; it really is a stable place.” 

Under public law 93-638 the Southern Ute Indian Tribe assumed management of the health center in 2009. “We are not an IHS facility, but we do take federal funds as seed money, to help us grow the health system locally,” Tonemah said. 

The Southern Ute Health Center serves all American Indian and Alaska Natives, even those who are not technically enrolled members of a federally recognized tribe but can still prove descendancy. 

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