Rep. Grijalva Pushes for Clarity on Federal Coronavirus Response in Indian Country

Published March 19, 2020

Asks for Documentation of Testing Equipment at Tribal Centers

 WASHINGTON — Rep. Raúl M. Grijalva (D-Ariz.), chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee, is seeking documentation of testing equipment for COVID-19 at Indian Health Service (IHS) facilities across Indian Country.

On Wednesday, Grijalva sent a letter to Rear Admiral Michael Weahkee, principal deputy director for Indian Health Services (IHS), citing a number of concerns about the pace and scope of the Trump administration’s response to the spread of COVID-19 in Indian Country and at urban Indian health centers.

Grijalva wants documentation of the availability of intensive-care-unit beds, ventilators and other response equipment at IHS facilities and urban Indian health centers nationwide.  A recent conference call between IHS officials and congressional staff raised concerns that available equipment may not be enough to respond adequately to the public health risk.

Additionally, Grijalva wants to know more information about how patients with COVID-19, commonly known as coronavirus, will be housed, quarantined and transported to adequate medical facilities. Because of a severe housing shortage in Indian Country, multi-generational housing is the norm for many tribal members. Grijalva asks in his letter for more information on how IHS intends to guarantee safe quarantine areas for affected populations.

During last week’s conference call, IHS officials told congressional staff that the agency has only 10 ventilators and only six Intensive Care Unit beds available nationwide. There are still no clear federal plans for making more equipment available to IHS hospitals and no clear plan to release already approved federal funding.

“Either this administration makes necessary funding and health-care resources available where they’re needed as quickly as possible, or more Americans are going to get sick and die,” Grijalva said.

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