Guest Opinion

By  Rear Adm. Michael D. Weahkee, Principal Deputy Director, Indian Health ServiceAgency to begin distributing $134 million in new funds to respond to COVID-19

As the entire country, and the world, is coming together to fight the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, the Indian Health Service is leveraging its close partnerships with tribes, tribal and urban Indian organizations, and state and local public health authorities to coordinate a comprehensive public health response. The Indian Country COVID-19 Response Team, part of the President’s Coronavirus Task Force, is ensuring a united front as we work together with other agencies within the Department of Health and Human Services, the White House, the Department of the Interior and FEMA to address this crisis.

I want to recognize the people across the Indian health system who are working tirelessly. We are fortunate to have a team of professionals dedicated to the health and well-being of our patients and tribal communities across the nation.  Your commitment has never been more important or more appreciated than it is today.

While many IHS facilities focus on outpatient primary care, IHS also has the capacity to provide care to patients in need of higher levels of care. We also have existing purchased/referred care agreements with a vast network of specialty care providers across the country, with multiple such contracts in place at each facility. IHS facilities are communicating and coordinating with their local and regional partners to ensure continued access to care for our patients.

Our facilities are also implementing procedures to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and to preserve precious medical resources, such as maximizing the use of telephone visits and telemedicine, postponing non-emergency procedures, and screening patients at entry points to assess risk of coronavirus infection.

While the Indian health system is large and complex, we realize that preventing, detecting, and treating COVID-19 requires local expertise. We are holding weekly conference calls with tribal and urban Indian organization leaders from across the country to provide updates, answer questions, and hear their concerns. We have also launched a new website at https://www.ihs.gov/coronavirus to share information with tribal and urban stakeholders.

Rear Adm. Michael D. Weahkee, Acting Director, Indian Health Service

IHS headquarters is working to get resources out to the front lines as quickly as possible. This week we held rapid tribal consultation and urban confer sessions to guide our distribution of $134 million in new resources to respond to coronavirus (COVID-19) in American Indian and Alaska Native communities. These funds will support IHS and tribal and urban Indian organizations in our response.

I am grateful for all of the tribal and urban Indian organization leaders who shared critical feedback over the past several days. That feedback was critical to allowing IHS to begin distributing these funds immediately. Additional details on how these funds will be distributed can be found in a letter to tribal and urban Indian organization leaders [PDF - 243 KB].

These resources are in addition to $80 million announced last week   from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for tribes and tribal and urban Indian organizations to respond to the coronavirus pandemic.

Congress has passed additional legislation, which includes over $1 billion for the IHS to support a wide range of COVID-19 response activities. We appreciate Congress’ support of American Indian and Alaska Native communities during this national emergency.

The public health threat posed by COVID-19 continues to be very high, both globally and in the United States. We must be vigilant in our efforts to slow the spread of infections within the communities that we serve. We continue to work closely with tribal, state, and local partners, as well as with other public health partners in responding to COVID-19.

 

About The Author
Author: Rear Adm. Michael D. Weahkee