IHS Director: More funding provided to hospitals to address conoravirus

Noel Lyn Smith
Farmington Daily Times

FARMINGTON — Indian Health Service operated facilities, tribal-managed hospitals and urban Indian health programs are starting to receive additional funding to aid in the response to the coronavirus.

IHS Director Rear Adm. Michael Weahkee spoke about the distribution of $500 million to the health care facilities and other funding provided to the agency during a visit to the Northern Navajo Medical Center this week.

He explained that the funding was provided from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services under the CARES Act Provider Relief Fund.

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The amount is the latest the agency has received from four funding bills passed by Congress and signed by President Donald Trump since the coronavirus pandemic impacted the country this year.

The IHS has received a total of approximately $2.4 billion, with the largest allocation coming from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act at $1 billion, Weahkee said.

This month, the Paycheck Protection Program and Health Care Enhancement Act provided an additional $750 million to the IHS support testing for COVID-19 and other related activities, including contact tracing, he added.

"We've been happy with where things are at. We're watching closely the conversations in Congress on the draft HEROES Act, which has been proposed in the House and we're watching to see what the Senate does on their side with that funding," he said.

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Part of the discussion surrounding that bill is to include infrastructure development, which the IHS would use for water system development and expanding broadband and telehealth services.

Weahkee, who was confirmed by the Senate to lead the agency in April, was on the Navajo Nation this week to review the agency's response to the coronavirus pandemic.

Members of the U.S. Public Health Service Commissioned Corps participated in a tour of the alternate care site in Shiprock during a May 27 visit by Indian Health Service Director Rear Adm. Michael Weahkee.

His visit included meeting with Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez and Vice President Myron Lizer and seeing the incident command teams at the Navajo Area IHS and at the Gallup Indian Medical Center.

In Shiprock, he met with staff at Northern Navajo Medical Center and toured the alternate care site at Northwest High School. The site was set up to house patients recovering from COVID-19.

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He also spoke by telephone with Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham about testing and contact tracing for COVID-19 in New Mexico.

Chris Percy, physician and Director of Community Health at the hospital in Shiprock, said the facility started contact tracing when the first COVID-19 cases were diagnosed.

Indian Health Service Director Michael Weahkee visits with staff on May 27 at the alternate care site at Northwest High School in Shiprock. The temporary site was set up in response to the coronavirus.

"People are talking a lot about contact tracing, we think of it more as really aggressive case identification and case ascertainment," Percy said.

This week, President Nez announced that the curve for positive COVID-19 cases is flattening on the Navajo Nation, which was based on information from the Navajo Area IHS that showed IHS-operated facilities peaked in daily admissions in April.

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Weahkee mentioned the progress, saying it was the result of people adhering to recommendations such as social distancing.

"We've started to see that curve on the downhill slide but at the same time that we're sharing that great information, which was the result of people adhering to social distancing, we also want to make sure that it's not an indication for the public that everything's OK. That we need to continue the great measures that have been put in place," he said.

At center, Kimberly Mohs, director for the Health Education Center for Wellness at Northern Navajo Medical Center, talks with Indian Health Service Director Michael Weahkee on May 27 in Shiprock.

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.

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