fbpx
 
Navajo Times | Donovan Quintero University of California San Francisco health care workers will be volunteering their expertise for a month at hospitals in and around the Navajo Nation, providing urgent healthcare support.

Editor's Note: This article was first published by the Navajo Times. Used with permission. All rights reserved. 

GALLUP, N.M. When Dr. Sriram Shamasunder, co-founder of the University of California at San Francisco’s  Health, Equity, Action, Leadership Initiative, was asked if the program could bring nurses to Navajo during these trying times of COVID-19, he didn’t hesitate.

“As part of UCSF and HEAL Program we’ve been working with the Navajo Nation for five years,” said Shamasunder. “One of our goals is to be in solidarity with the Navajo people and accompany you at all times including the COVID surge.”

HEAL is a two-year fellowship for health care workers who are committed to working with disadvantaged rural communities around the world. Forty-nine health care workers in the Navajo Nation are current HEAL fellows or alumni.

The request for emergency medical nurses and critical care nurses came from HEAL fellow Dr. Adriann Begay and another colleague, who were already on-site working at Gallup Indian Medical Center.

“It’s a program that is trying to bring equity to health especially to the underserved,” said Begay about HEAL. “So they’ve been here with the Navajo Area Indian Health Services.”

Being a part of the HEAL Program and serving in underserved areas overseas gave Begay an appreciation for what medical services the Navajo Nation has.

“When I was part of the HEAL Program I realized how lucky we are and the resources that we have,” said Begay. “To us, they may be limited here, but when you think about people in Nepal or Africa  … it gave me an appreciation for what we have here.”

On March 17, the Navajo Nation reported it first two cases of COVID-19 in Chilchinbeto community and from then the very contagious virus spread like wildfire. As of Friday night, there had been 1,540 cases of COVID-19 and 58 deaths. There are also a total of 6,473 negative test results. Some 8,978 tests have been administered, with some test results pending. 

These staggering numbers, President Jonathan Nez explained, are partly due to increased testing being done, including rapid testing. 

“This is not really the Navajo Nation where we are at, but a majority of the patients are Navajo,” said Nez as he met the HEAL team at GIMC Friday. “There has been an increase in positive people here in Gallup.”

McKinley County has 351 cases. Up until last Saturday, border town COVID-19 cases had been counted in the tallies released to the public each week by the president’s office, but by Monday, Navajo Health Department stated the Navajo Epidemiology Center has analyzed and distinguished cases between Navajo Nation residents and border town residents. The newly reported figures only include Navajo Nation residents.

Whether or not the numbers are being reported, the surge in McKinley County has been the highest in the state of New Mexico, believed to be due in large part to the large population of homeless alcoholics, according to local authorities.

Navajo Area Indian Health Service director Roselyn Tso said during a meeting with the Navajo Nation Council’s Naabik’iyati’ Committee the first case of COVID-19 at the Gallup Detox Center was identified on April 8, but IHS believes there had been cases before that as early as March 30.

According to Tso, the April 8 patient may have had contact with as many as 170 people while carrying the virus.

Some of the HEAL Program nurses weren’t there to meet with Nez and Vice President Myron Lizer because they were already out in the field tending to the 130 or so patients quarantined at local hotels — a move on the city’s part to minimize the spread among the unsheltered.

While HEAL usually sends doctors, Shamasunder said Begay had specifically requested nurses, so they spoke to UCSF leadership in hopes they could get the nurses needed.

“In a matter of days we had a team of 21 with 14 nurses,” said Shamasunder. “The goal was to be of service at this moment.”

Nez and Lizer said that although promised federal aid has been slow in coming, the recent national publicity about the high number of COVID cases on Navajo has led to an outpouring of help from all over the country.

“We have partners like you all who are friends to Navajo,” said Nez to the HEAL team “that have a heart for the Navajo people and we appreciate that. It’s the slowness of the federal government right now, but people like you, and the doctors and nurses who have stepped up, (have) shown that with the limited resources we have, we can help one another out.”

As of Friday, San Francisco had reported 38 new cases bringing its total to 1,340 with 22 deaths. The city has a population of 883,305. The low numbers are attributed to its residents sheltering in place, which was first ordered March 16. Just recently the city’s mayor said this order will continue on for another month or so.

Navajo Department of Health issued a shelter-in-place order March 20, when cases on Navajo were at 14. Even with this order, and subsequent curfews, case numbers and deaths on Navajo continue to increase. The peak on Navajo is expected to happen in early to mid-May.

“We’ve got to continue to let our citizens know that this serious,” said Nez. “They have to take it serious. People are losing their lives. They just have to listen. That’s it. Stay home.”

Having worked on Navajo, Shamasunder said the alarming numbers were “predictable” in the sense that the Indian Health Service has been chronically underfunded. Not to mention that the Navajo population itself suffers from morbidity such as high rates of diabetes and high blood pressure to name a few.

“When you have something like COVID, its difficult to shelter in place because you have families of 10-12 people,” said Shamasunder. “All the things that makes the connectivity so beautiful on Navajo Nation, also makes it susceptible for COVID-19.”

The HEAL team will dispatch nurses to Chinle, Shiprock and Tuba City in addition to Gallup. They will stay for a month to reinforce the IHS personnel at the hospitals there.

More Stories Like This

Native News Weekly (November 27, 2022): D.C. Briefs
Sen. Schumer Announces $7.625 Million Federal Grant on Seneca Nation
#GivingTuesday: Here are 16 Native Nonprofits Worthy of Your Support
CBS Broadcasters Mock Native American College Basketball Player
Alcatraz Island: Indigenous People Gather at Sunrise on Thanksgiving

You’re reading the first draft of history. 

November is  Native American Heritage Month in the United States. We feel like every month — and every day — is a reason for celebrating Native Americans and our heritage. That’s what we try to do here at Native News Online, with stories each day that celebrate, inform and uplift American Indian and Alaska Native people. Over the past year or so, we have been especially busy with three important reporting projects that are having an impact across Indian Country:

  • Indian Boarding Schools. We’ve reported and published more than 150 stories and special live stream video events to help shine a light on the dark era of boarding schools — and help create momentum for change.
  • Native Health Desk. Launched in January, this reporting initiative was created to heighten awareness of Native American health inequities and spotlight pockets of progress in Indian Country. So far we’ve reported and published nearly 120 stories and launched a monthly health newsletter that reaches more than 23,000 readers.  
  • Native Bidaske. In March, we launched this live stream interview program to highlight the work of Native Americans who are making news and leading change in Indian Country.  We have hosted guests from the federal government and Native rights advocates as well as Indigenous actors, comedians, journalists and models.   

We hope you will join us in celebrating Native American heritage and history this November and invite you to consider the old adage that “Journalism is the first draft of history.” If you appreciate the voice Native News Online gives to Native American people, we hope you will support our work with a donation so we can build our newsroom and continue to amplify Native voices and Native perspectives.

Any contribution — big or small — helps us remain a force for change in Indian Country and continue telling the stories that are so often ignored, erased or overlooked.  Most often, our donors make a one-time gift of $20 or more, while many choose to make a recurring monthly donation of $5 or $10.  Whatever you can do, it helps fund our Indigenous-led newsroom and our ability to cover Native news. 

Donate to Native News Online today and support independent Indigenous journalism. Thank you. 

About The Author
Author: Arlyssa BecentiEmail: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.