KAYENTA, Ariz. Construction of a new 10-bed Indian Health Service hospital in Kayenta, Ariz., began Wednesday with a groundbreaking ceremony, kicking off a three-year project intended to improve health care access for the isolated Navajo Nation community.

Although the Kayenta Health Center is designed to be small, it will be better equipped to care for the estimated 18,000 residents of the Kayenta area. The region is served by three small IHS clinics and the Kayenta clinic is more than 50 years old.

"Although it has grown through the years, the population and the people that need service has exceeded the size of the clinic," said Malcolm Benally, the Kayenta community involvement coordinator.

A primary objective of the new hospital, Benally said, is reducing patient waiting times to make services more readily available.

When completed in 2012, the short-stay hospital is expected to be capable of treating up to 75,000 patients per year, according to Linda White, CEO of the IHS Kayenta Service Unit clinics.

But the new medical center was designed with Navajo traditions in mind, Benally said. The entrance faces east and health care providers will focus on health rather than the sickness and death commonly associated with hospitals.

"It's not going to be where you're directed either to the triage or the emergency room. The first thing you're going to see in the lobby is going to be a wellness center," he said.

The Kayenta Health Center, in addition to short-stay medical treatment, will offer some out-patient surgery options, CAT scans and a drive-through pharmacy.

Care for traumatic injuries will continue to be transferred to the Flagstaff, Ariz., or Phoenix hospitals.

The medical facility and 129 associated housing units to be built for new hospital staff are budgeted to cost approximately $150 million.

James Monteleone:

jmonteleone@daily-times.com