Adam Spencer, The Triplicate

For third time, employees complain of health problems

United Indian Health Services officials continue to be perplexed by what is making employees sick at Howonquet Health Center in Smith River.

On Wednesday, services at the Smith River clinic were relocated after at least 12 employees experienced respiratory symptoms like watery eyes and a scratchy throat - the third relocation from the clinic in less than three months, according to UIHS officials.

Howonquet Health Center's patients can receive services at the Crescent City and Klamath locations until the air quality problem is resolved.

After all tests for molds, carbon monoxide and carbon dioxide repeatedly came back negative, UIHS officials planned to test for an

expanded list of possible air quality culprits, according to UIHS regional director Sharyne Harper.

"We don't know what's going on with that building but we know it has issues," Harper said Thursday. "We're trying to have more testing done and hopefully we'll get that done (and) then we can move back."

When weeks of testing did not identify any obvious problems, services were moved back into the Smith River building Feb. 11, but on Wednesday, UIHS officials again decided that the clinic was unsafe after employees exhibited the same symptoms, officials said.

"Due to unexplainable environmental circumstances the Howonquet Health Clinic has been ordered to close for the safety of the clients and staff," said a Wednesday memo to staff and clients.

Something in or near the building is still suspected to be at the root of the problem, because when employees left the building for even a short amount of time, the symptoms diminished, Harper said.

"If you come back in the building, the symptoms come back," Harper said.

The problems arose in late December, when several employees at the Smith River facility exhibited similar symptoms common to air quality issues.

The medical side of the Howonquet clinic, which also houses dental and behavioral health services, was relocated while UIHS worked hand-in-hand with the building owner, Smith River Rancheria, to identify the problem.

Rancheria officials could not be reached for comment.

After a thorough cleaning of the HVAC system and negative tests for agents like mold and carbon monoxide, the Howonquet medical services were returned to the site, UIHS officials said.

Once medical employees again experienced the same symptoms, all operations in the Howonquet Clinic were relocated to Crescent City and Klamath facilities in mid-January.

"We want to see our patients so we're doing the best we can to set up as rapidly as we can," Harpers said."We know how inconvenient it is for some people."

For more information on where to find all UIHS services, call 707-482-2181.

For information on the distribution of specific UIHS services usually at Howonquet call one of the following:

andbull; Medical, 707-464-2750

andbull; Dental, 707-464-2583

andbull; Medication pick-up, 707-464-2663

Reach Adam Spencer at