Indian Health Service names member of Navajo Nation as agency's top doctor

Noel Lyn Smith
Farmington Daily Times

GALLUP — A member of the Navajo Nation has been named the new chief medical officer of the Indian Health Service.

The federal health agency announced on July 30 the selection of Dr. Loretta Christensen.

As the agency's top doctor, Christensen will be the lead expert on medical and public health topics as well as a guide for the IHS Office of the Director and staff on Native American and Alaska Native health care policies and issues, according to an IHS press release.

Navajo Area IHS Director Roselyn Tso congratulated Christensen in a statement to The Daily Times.

"I would like to express my appreciation and gratitude to Dr. Loretta Christensen for the significant contributions she made in increasing the health status of the Navajo Nation, San Juan Southern Paiute and other tribes served by the Navajo Area during her tenure as Navajo Area chief medical officer," Tso said.

Dr. Loretta Christensen

Tso worked alongside Christensen to help the tribe respond to the coronavirus pandemic.

More:San Juan County leads state in Beta, Gamma, Delta COVID-19 variants

"Throughout the COVID pandemic, she provided outstanding leadership and oversight of the federal health care system locally and focused on the vision of promoting quality health care and increasing access to health services," Tso said.

Christensen earned her medical degree from Hahnemann University Medical School, now Drexel University School of Medicine, in Philadelphia. She started her career with the IHS as a general surgeon and served as chief medical officer for the Navajo Area IHS from 2017 to 2021.

Her appointment comes after Rear Adm. Michael Toedt retired in July.

"She is a frontline warrior and we will miss her as she moves on to another prestigious position with IHS. I am confident that her guidance, expertise and leadership helped to save many lives," Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez said in a press release from his office.

He added that the "tremendous insight and recommendations" she provided throughout the pandemic helped reduce the number of new COVID-19 cases and contributed to the high vaccination rate.

Evictions and New Mexico:Here's what you need to know about the state's housing situation amid COVID-19

Noel Lyn Smith covers the Navajo Nation for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4636 or by email at nsmith@daily-times.com.

Support local journalism with a digital subscription to The Daily Times.