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Rio Arriba County Aims To Help Navajo Nation With Beds & PPE Donation For COVID-19 Response

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ESPANOLA, NM – As the infection rates continue to rise at an alarming rate in the Navajo Nation beds and equipment are being donated by Rio Arriba County to help with the response. A total of fifteen (15) beds and personal protective equipment (PPE) of one hundred twenty-three (123) gowns and sixty (60) 3-D printed N95 masks are currently being transported to Rehoboth McKinley Hospital (RMCH) in Gallup, McKinley County. Alfredo Montoya, the head of the County’s Emergency Operations Center, said the County is working to provide cloth masks and face shields as well. 

Jonathan Nez, President of Navajo Nation, is expecting COVID-19 cases to peak sometime in May to mid-May, so it is hoped the beds and PPE will be a timely resource. The Gallup area serves as a medical hub for residents from the Navajo and Zuni reservations so the donation to Rehoboth McKinley Hospital is expected to especially help tribal members hard hit by the pandemic. 

“We just appreciate these beds. Our facilities right now are full – both RMCH and IHS (Indian Health Service). This is a blessing. We’d like to say thank you to Rio Arriba,” said William “Bill” Camarota the Special Projects and Safety Officer for WellSpring Recovery Center Behavioral Health Services, a clinic/division of RMCH. Mr. Camarota drove down with a trailor to pick up the beds and equipment to take back to RMCH. 

“Rio Arriba County is just so excited that we could help. We are here to help our neighbors in any way that we can,” said County Commission Chair, Leo Jaramillo. 

DISPROPORTIONATE IMPACT 

According to the Navajo Department of Health, the Navajo Nation has registered 1,321 cases of COVID-19 with 45 confirmed deaths compared to eleven infections county-wide for Rio Arriba.The infection rate for the Navajo Nation is more than eight times higher the State’s overall infection rates. 

Native Americans represent 11% of the state’s population however they constitute over 38% of New Mexico’s cases statewide. 

The disproportionate impact of this pandemic on Native Americans and tribal communities is well documented. A recent article in The Lancet noted the additional risk factors Native communities face including higher levels of underlying conditions, like heart disease and diabetes, increasing the risks of complications, as well as limited access to health care facilities. Indian Health Service (IHS) provides health care for those living on reservations. The article noted the IHS currently has only 1,257 hospital beds and 36 intensive care units with many people hours away from the nearest IHS facility. (See “COVID-19 exacerbating inequalities in the US” April 18, 2020 FULL TEXT ARTICLE

COUNTY REACHING OUT 

Director of Rio Arriba’s Health and Human Services, Lauren Reichelt, reached out to RMCH several weeks ago when the county was donating beds to their local hospital and facilities from other counties in need. 

“We got a call from the County a couple of weeks ago. We thought it was so cool people reaching out. The residual effect of all of this togetherness and coming together is that there will be a different way of thinking. You’ll see,” said Bill Camarota. 

All together, Rio Arriba County has also provided thirty four (34) hospital beds to its primary county hospital, Presbyterian in Espanola, and twenty (20) to Taos County for use at Holy Cross Hospital as well as this most recent donation. According to projected needs, both Rio Arrriba and Taos Counties will be covered by the donation. Projections are determined in coordination with the State Department of Health, Federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the County’s Emergency Response Chief and Health and Human Services Director and local hospitals. 

FACE MASK PROJECT 

Private citizen Ryan Proctor, in Albuquerque donated the 3-D printed masks and Steve Cox with Northern New Mexico College printed face shields intended for RMCH. Rio Arriba County has also received anonymous donations of $5,000 and $1,000 and materials to the County’s Rosie the Respirators face mask project pulling together volunteer efforts from the county and beyond. These efforts will help with the additional donation of fabric face masks and shields the county is planning  on. 

RESOURCES FOR NAVAJO NATION RESIDENTS 

The Navajo Department of Health’s COVID-19 website offers health and safety tips, as well as other important resources at http://www.ndoh.navajo-nsn.gov/COVID-19. The Navajo Health 

Command Operations Center, which is coordinating the emergency response, can be reached 

(928) 871-7014. Mental health helpline (928) 810-7357 is available from 8-5pm. Rehoboth 

McKinley Hospital in Gallup https://www.rmch.org 

On April 19th, NMPBS presented “New Mexico’s Tribal Communities and COVID-19: A Virtual Town Hal” – featuring state and tribal officials including Gov Lujan-Grisham and Rep Deb Haaland. Access the recorded program here: NM PBS Native American Town Hall 

To contain the spread a 57-Hour Weekend Curfew is planned for April 24 starting at 8:00pm to April 27 5:00am. 

For more information contact: 

On Rio Arriba’s EOC & Covid-19 Response: Alfredo Montoya, Fire Marshall and Chief of EMS, aamontoya@rio-arriba.org, (505) 747-1941 

On the hospital beds, county collaborations and Economic Development: Christopher Madrid, Dir Economic Devt, Clmadrid@rio-arriba.org, (505) 770-0040 

On the face masks project ‘Rosie the Respirator” and County Health & Human Services: Lauren Reichelt, Health & Human Services Dir, LMReichelt@rio-arriba.org, (505) 929-2589 

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