THIS SUMMER, the Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) Center for Global Health (CGH) Office of Global Disaster Response and Humanitarian Action (GDRHA), in response to a request for support from longtime GDRHA partner Project Hope, deployed four experienced nursing staff to the Navajo Nation to assist with the care of patients admitted to Indian Health Service facilities amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Team Lead and Director of Global Disaster Response and Humanitarian Action Lindsey Martin, NP (Surgical Intensive Care Unit), Director of Global Nursing Mary Sebert, RN, MPH (CGH), Jennifer Samiotes, RN (Pediatric Intensive Care Unit), and Skeeter Welder, RN (Medical Intensive Care Unit), worked with the Chinle Comprehensive Care Facility in Chinle, Arizona, to provide clinical care.
The Navajo Nation, the largest American Indian reservation in the United States, has a population of fewer than 200,000 yet has seen one of the highest per capita rates of COVID-19 infections of any US state. By the time of the July deployment, Chinle had seen more than 8,000 positive cases and 386 confirmed deaths.
As Martin told NPR’s All Things Considered in late June: “what we’re not seeing on the news is the fact that they’ve really instituted a very community-based response instead of an individualistic effort.” She went on to add: “People are taking this effort and really being protective, particularly about vulnerable populations…People are what they call ‘hauling water,’ so distributing water to those people so they don’t have to leave their homes. They’re nominating certain individuals to be the ones that go to the grocery store.”
With the help of CGH’s nurses, the Chinle facility converted a pediatric ward into a COVID Respiratory Care Unit and repurposed the facility’s dining room into a sewing room for masks and gowns; the facility also ensured that traditional medicine practitioners were available by phone to support care efforts.