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Indian Health Service receives $6.1 billion in COVID-19 relief

Copyright © 2021 Albuquerque Journal

The Indian Health Service, which leads the COVID-19 vaccination program on the Navajo Nation among other tribal governments, received $6.1 billion from the American Rescue Plan Act.

Jillian Curtis, director of the IHS Finance and Accounting Office, said the agency will consult with the tribes to determine how the money should be distributed.

Indian Health Service workers in Arizona examine COVID-19 vaccine doses to be delivered to the Navajo Nation in December. The IHS received $6.1 billion from the American Rescue Plan Act. (Roberto E. Rosales/Albuquerque Journal)

“We have heard time and again from tribal leaders and urban Indian health organization leaders that they want to make sure the funds are allocated expeditiously,” Curtis told reporters on Thursday. “They want to use previously identified funding formulas … and existing funding mechanisms.”

President Joe Biden signed the pandemic relief legislation on Thursday.

IHS received $2 billion from the relief package to address lost revenue, $1.5 billion for COVID-19 testing and contact tracing, $600 million for vaccine activities, and $240 million for public health workforce.

Other appropriations include $600 million for facility support, $10 million for potable water delivery programs across Indian Country, $600 million for direct health care services and $420 million for mental health services and substance abuse prevention and treatment.

Dr. Loretta Christensen, chief medical officer for the Navajo Area IHS, said 70% of eligible residents on the reservation have received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine.

“We’re currently vaccinating all ages (over 16), with focused pods for any remaining elders, medically-complex patients, or essential employees,” Christensen said.

Nearly 30,000 Navajo Nation residents had tested positive for the virus as of Thursday, with 16,212 people reported as recovered.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention lists several long-term symptoms of COVID-19 patients, including fatigue, shortness of breath, joint pain, headaches and difficulty concentrating.

“We’re ramping up our post-COVID program to address all of our people who were positive for COVID,” Christensen said. “We want to address any long-term COVID syndrome problems, and we’ll be heavily focused on that in the upcoming weeks.”

The American Rescue Plan legislation also directs $20 billion to tribal governments to address the pandemic.

Other appropriations for Indigenous communities include $1.2 billion for the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s tribal and Native Hawaiian programs, $1 billion for tribal child care programs, $870 million for the Bureau of Indian Education and $20 million for Native language preservation.

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