Wilfred R. Jones talks about significance of UNHS and BMH to San Juan County

Wilfred R. Jones is a man who believes in setting goals, and working to accomplish those goals in his personal and professional life, including his role in bringing quality healthcare to San Juan County.

Today, as a sitting member of the Blue Mountain Hospital and Utah Navajo Health System, Inc. Boards of Directors, Jones continues to play a role in providing outstanding healthcare to the residents and visitors of San Juan County. He said he is proud to have been a member of the UNHS Board of Directors from the beginning, in 2000. He joined the Blue Mountain Hospital Board of Directors during the hospital’s planning stages, and views the outstanding growth of UNHS and Blue Mountain Hospital as a tremendous accomplishment, and a blessing for the communities in San Juan County and the entire Utah portion of the Navajo Reservation.

“The people have accomplished a lot. We have accomplished a lot. And when I say we, I include the local people in Blanding. This is unique. Wherever you go, when you present this and tell people about UNHS, along with Blue Mountain Hospital, people want to know how we accomplished this. Other people have tried it and failed. With other tribes throughout the United States, when you go to these conferences, people want to know how did you do that? How did you get others involved?”

According to Jones, there’s no real secret to the way the people of San Juan County have worked together to create a growing healthcare system. He said it all involves collaboration and communication. People need to sit down and talk, regardless of who you are, he explained.

“Any health issue, any sickness or whatever may be, it doesn’t discriminate. It doesn’t matter who you are, what color you are. It’s going to affect you just like anybody else. So therefore we should address this issue for everybody,” Jones said.

Inside the Hogan at Blue Mountain Hospital, those entering are reminded to always walk to the left. Why? As Wilfred Jones explains, “You don’t see the sun going backwards. It always goes forward and that means you have to go around the circle every time if you
need help. That’s part of the Hogan setting. It’s done in every Hogan.” Staff photo

Jones was born and raised on the Navajo Reservation and graduated from San Juan High School in 1975. After high school, he accepted a scholarship from Texaco and studied oilfield management at Texas Tech University. He returned to San Juan County after graduating from Texas Tech and worked for Texaco for 26 years. Later, the Navajo Nation took over the oil field operations in San Juan County, and he worked for the Navajo Nation six more years. He then made good on one of his goals, to retire at age 55. Jones actually calls it semi-retired because he stays busy working on healthcare for the Navajo people and for all residents of San Juan County. He said his time away from the reservation helped him, when he first started working on the Board of Directors for UNHS. He said he understood the way the outside world works, including the tax system. He said he learned that taxes are paid by taxpayers, and they pay for all the government funding. He said he realized those taxes were part of his paycheck too, and he also understood the need to utilize the federal government funding more efficiently.

“The federal government, to me, just throws money at us. What do we do with it? We don’t get anything done. My mentality was, ‘we can improve.’ Then as we expanded and started working on Blue Mountain Hospital, and talking about it, I thought all people need health care and that was my thinking, that we needed to set up health facilities for all people,” he said. “My initial objective with Blue Mountain Hospital was, let’s work together. As Board Chair, I said let’s get the doors open and not worry about the political stuff.

“There was a need for a health care facility nearby to address some of the disparity we had, instead of just depending on the federal government for all the services,” Jones continued. “We thought we could do much more, a lot better, more effectively and more efficiently. That was my objective, improved healthcare. I started getting involved with the local people and with those here in Blanding and the Ute Tribe. My goal was to get everyone involved because the people really do need healthcare as a whole.”

Toward the end of completion of the hospital, Jones explained, the Department of Housing and Urban Development was saying everything with the hospital needed to be put on hold, and it might have to be put on the auction block. He said he and UNHS CEO Donna Singer, traveled to Washington D.C. three times to meet with HUD officials and testify about the situation with the hospital.

“The way they saw it, this was a unique situation and this wasn’t being done for the Indian people, but for all people. As rural as we are, they were in favor of funding it,” Jones said.

Now, five years later, Jones said Blue Mountain Hospital is really successful. For many, like his family, the hospital in Blanding has cut the travel time to a hospital in half. He said he appreciates what Blue Mountain Hospital has done to improve healthcare in San Juan County. But he says, many still don’t understand the significance of having quality healthcare nearby.

“The way my people look at it, it’s already taken care of by the federal government. I don’t have to worry about it. I don’t have to say anything. I don’t have to do anything. That’s the mentality, but I think we have to learn that, ‘this is part of me.’ Let’s tell the federal government what we want,” he said. “Let’s utilize the funding that they have more effectively, more efficiently. We need to address, and tell the federal government what we want instead of just throwing money at us and saying this is where you are and this is what you need. Let’s take the money and utilize it more effectively, more efficiently. What do we want? We can set up these programs the way we see it and that ‘s my goal.”

Jones also has a vision for the future of Blue Mountain Hospital. He said one day he’d like to see a trauma center at the hospital, so trauma patients can be flown into Blue Mountain Hospital, instead of having to fly them out to other hospitals.

“Why not?” He asked.

Jones said he wants to work closely with the hospital administration to address the need for expansion of the hospital and develop new resources to fund that expansion and make additional services possible.

According to Jones, one of the significant aspects of Blue Mountain Hospital, for Native Americans, is the Hogan that sits on the east side of the building. Jones said for Navajo and Ute people, the Hogan is where health care is.

“When you start talking about health care it’s the first thing comes to mind,” Jones explained when asked about the significance of the Hogan. “We were reminded by our elders, who asked, ‘Are you going to be building with a Hogan, that can serve us, as traditional people, so we can go in there and have our ceremonies?’ And I said yes. That was in the plan from the beginning as recommended by our elders. I’m glad at the time that people understood what it meant, and how important it is for us Native Americans to utilize it if we should need it.”

Jones said at one time every home on the reservation had a Hogan, but nowadays a lot of places have community Hogans.

He said people use the Hogan at the hospital for prayer services, ceremonies and other needs, but the Hogan should be better promoted to let people know it’s there for those who wish to use it for their services. When asked about the tradition of entering the Hogan and walking to the left, instead of the right, Jones explained.

“You don’t see clock going backwards do you? You go forward, regardless of how things are affecting you. You still need to go forward even if you’re struggling. That’s the whole mentality of the Native Americans. You don’t see the sun going backwards. It always goes forward and that means you have to go around the circle every time if you need help. That’s part of the Hogan setting. It’s done in every Hogan.”

Jones continues to set goals and strives to make them happen. His goals nowadays focus a lot on maintaining the quality of healthcare that’s been created by UNHS and Blue Mountain Hospital through the efforts of administrators, staff and the direction of the Boards of Directors. When asked if there was a lesson to be learned from the success of UNHS and Blue Mountain Hospital, Jones said, the main thing to remember is we’re all people and we need to work together so we can have a good healthcare system for future generations.

“For our kids and grandkids to carry on so they can be proud of who they are and their community and take care of one another,” he continued. “I think of some of the things that go on out there in the world right now… they keep drawing the line between different ethnics and we, in the community of San Juan County, we don’t operate like that. We work as a community and this is what we have. Look at what we accomplish, what you can accomplish if you just work together.”


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