Robert Billie Whitehorse is new Chairman for UNHS Board of Directors
by Earl Lee
Robert Billie Whitehorse has been elected Chairman of the Utah Navajo Health System, Inc. Board of Directors because of his leadership skills, his experience as a public figure and as the committee chair for various other organizations.
He is currently employed by Resolute Energy Corporation as a Public Relations Specialist. In a recent interview, Whitehorse said that at one point in time Resolute was a young company with a lot of expectations, after buying out other oil companies in the Greater Aneth Oil Field. Resolute, at the time, was planning a strategy to upgrade the oil field operations and better it’s relationships with the local communities. For this reason, Resolute was looking for a qualified person with experience in the oil field, and also in oil company administration. Whitehorse had experience as a personnel director at one time for El Paso Natural Gas Company. He also had experience with the Navajo Nation Three Branch Government, Navajo Nation Judicial Administration, Executive Administration and Legislative Administration. As a politician, he was in good standing with the local communities, so Resolute hired him.
At one time, Robert Billie Whitehorse was also considered to be the youngest council delegate by the Navajo Nation Council. He served the Aneth community well for 34 years. The community saw, and was satisfied with, what he was accomplishing through his leadership. During those times as a council delegate he served as a Budget and Finance Chair, Education Committee Chair, Road Committee Chair, Business Committee Chair, Veterans Committee Chair and Resource Committee Chair. He also served on various other committees, but was never too far from his family. Whitehorse has been married for 54 years, is the father to six children and grandfather to 26 grandkids. He is also a veteran of the U.S. Armed Forces.
“In 1999 the Montezuma Creek Clinic was struggling to survive, while under the San Juan County Health Care Services District,” he explained. “The Aneth Community decided to fix this major community problem, and formed a committee to work and spearhead the improvement of this clinic. It was a major challenge because never before in the history our Navajo cultural was there ever a clinic that belonged to the Navajo people. Our way of thinking, our leadership skills and our education were challenged through this effort. The Aneth community was determined, and had faith in us to improve this clinic that had struggled through other organizations to survive. It was given to us to nourish it with prayers and get it on its feet.
“I was still functioning as a council delegate when I was appointed this task from Aneth Chapter, by resolution, along with others from the other Utah Chapters,” he said. “We started to plan and establish policies, by-laws and procedures for the clinic to function properly. I was a member of the Board all these years but I never served as an elected Board officer because I wanted to express my voice on issues and projects that were facing the clinic. I wanted to help the people of my community, regarding their livelihood, their health, our elders, the young adults, and children all the way down to infants. I thought that if my people are to be happy, they have to be in good physical health. Good health means education in what we eat, exercise, and good quality medication for those with health problems. The utmost important part was speaking out for our eld erly that are very limited in English and the very young people, who can’t speak for themselves.”
According to Whitehorse, serving as a Board member helped him understand the health needs of his people. He learned to function under a contract called P.L. 93-638 and the 501 (c) (3) not-for-profit organizations, which were very important to understand. Another priority was establishing a federally designated 330 (e), Community Health Center for medically underserved San Juan County Navajo residents.
Becoming a Board member to the clinic and learning to function under P.L. 93-638 made him realize he couldn’t rely on politics. It was a whole new way of negotiating and speaking out for the clinic and the people.
“It was new to me and I had to reprogram my way of thinking,” he said. “I was enthusiastic about the clinic, and envisioned how it was going to be next year, and the following years, and how our own people would operate the clinic. It was exciting to me so I planned; talked with the Board members, and members of the Navajo Nation Council to support the Montezuma Creek Clinic.”
Two years ago during the annual Board meeting Whitehorse was elected to serve as Vice-Chairman to the Board. During the annual UNHS Board meeting, last November, the members of the Board elected him to serve as the Chairman of the Board, which he accepted with respect and honored their request.
“I know it’s a tough job but I will do the best I can to further expand healthcare for my people, not just for the Utah Navajos, but our neighboring Navajo people and other nationalities that will hap- pen to come to UNHS for service,” he said. “Sugar diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure and cancer; these are some of the more common ailments facing the Navajo people today,” Whitehorse continued. “Somebody has to address these complications with knowledge, and explain the effectiveness of pharmaceutical treatment to the human anatomy, pursue high tech critical medical equipment, bring the best knowledgeable, experienced Doctors and nurses to UNHS, and exercise our contract P.L. Law 93-638, Title V to negotiate more effectively and get more funding to operate UNHS.”
With it’s healthcare facilities, UNHS has helped many Utah residents. The professional staff at UNHS has helped improve the quality of life for those who are suffering from major illnesses. Whitehorse said he is very happy for them and appreciates the work of UNHS providers and nurses.
“But sadly we also lost some of these to illnesses and these were relatives and some were close relatives. This is the reason why it is so important to advance our healthcare even more. We have the best qualified Board Members and staff, and I will work with them to go after up-to-date, high tech medical equipment that will immediately show an early stage of cancer, or diabetes, so we can start early treatment and prevent diseases from progressing to something major,” he said. “I think that all major illnesses and diseases are preventable through education and early treatment. I, myself have survived cancer. This is the reason why I say this.”
Whitehorse said he will work with the State of Utah, County, Navajo Nation, Utah Department of Health, Centers for Disease Control (CDC), and World Health Organization (WHO) to get information that will educate Navajo people, get more Medical Doctors for UNHS clinics, and help shorten the waiting time for patients to see a doctor. He said this is what the Board saw in him… his encouragement for Board members and his enthusiasm for UNHS.
Another issue that faces many Navajo people, Whitehorse continued, is that they do not have insurance to cover their medical expenses or medication. But, he said, there are ways to help the very needy and the young people, the young adults, who are not working. He said the way to help them is to bring the issue to the table. Yes, there are Medicaid and Medicare, he added, but some are not qualified and are not able meet the requirements. So, I am aware of this and I will work on it.
He also addressed the issue of Navajo people, who come down with an illness off the reservation then get treated, and end up with a huge medical bill. Then they come home and try to get help to pay the medical bill, but they are usually turn-ed down. He said he will negotiate with different departments, and with Indian Health Services, to receive more funding to help those who are pressured to pay bills. He said education is another key issue. The people need to be educated by relaying messages via chapter meetings, or with flyers, to tell them that there are ways to get treated so their bills can be paid.
He also noted that Veterans treatment centers are located far off the reservation and Navajo veterans are having a hard time meeting their appointments. Veterans have to be seen by veterans doctors, he said, and this makes it complicated because a regular doctor cannot see and treat a veteran; reimbursements are not happening if a veteran uses his own vehicle to travel, or pay for meals and lodging, while being treated. This is a frequent problem, he stressed, and we will work on this in the coming year.
Robert Whitehorse was asked what does “Walking in beauty” mean to you? His response was:
“Walking in the blessing of “beauty way” is having a good strong, up-to-date clinic. Providing high quality medication and treatment from our own healthcare system. Our Navajo cultural and tradition, our way of thinking is fundamental to walking in beauty. Having good health and being in harmony with nature, and at peace with yourself, is a blessing from our creator. That is why I respect all prayers whether they are from the Native American Church, Christianity, or our own original pray-ers and ceremonies. That is why when we get our medication, we pray about our medicine and, having faith in the medicine, we take it. And sure enough it works for us.”