DOD responds to COVID-19 in Navajo Nation

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U.S. Navy Lt. Codi Kelly, a critical care nurse with the Rural Rapid Response Team, cares for a patient while working in the COVID-19 ward at the Northern Navajo Medical Center, Shiprock, N.M., Dec. 31, 2020. U.S. Northern Command, through U.S. Army North, remains committed to providing flexible U.S. Department of Defense support to the whole-of-America COVID-19 response. (U.S. Army photo by Spc. Ashunteia Smith)
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At the request of the Department of Health and Human Services, approximately 12 Navy personnel deployed to the Navajo Nation reservation in New Mexico and Arizona to provide support to the Northern Navajo Medical Center in Shiprock, N.M.

The medical personnel have been working side-by-side with civilian and U.S. Public Health Service Commissioned Corps health care providers to help treat COVID-19 patients.

U.S. Navy Lt. Kathryn Hrezo, a critical care nurse with the Rural Rapid Response Team, prepares to checks patients’ blood sugar levels, while working in the COVID-19 ward at the Northern Navajo Medical Center, Shiprock, N.M., Jan. 2, 2021. U.S. Northern Command, through U.S. Army North, remains committed to providing flexible U.S. Department of Defense support to the whole-of-America COVID-19 response. (U.S. Army photo by Spc. Ashunteia Smith)

“The relationship with the embedded nursing staff here has been great from the get go,” Navy Lt. Cmdr. Sarah Jagger, critical care nurse and Rural Rapid Response team leader said.

“They are family now,” Navy Lt. Cmdr. Scott Smith, U.S. Public Health Service Commissioned Corps and the hospital’s intensive care unit supervisor, said.

The medical providers are currently treating up to eight patients at one time in the COVID-19 positive ward at the medical center. The ward is set up in an open room with beds alongside each other. As the pandemic progresses, the medical center is considering expanding the ward, allowing the providers to treat up to 15 patients at once.

“Bringing in that staff gave us the capability of doubling our bed capacity for the intensive care unit,” Smith said.

For some of the medical providers, it is not their first time being part of the Defense Department’s whole-of-America COVID-19 response. Jagger and other members of the Rural Rapid Response teams provided support at different hospitals in New York when the pandemic first started, as well as in Texas as the pandemic continued.

“Thankfully, we are seeing better outcomes than we did when COVID-19 first hit,” Jagger said.

Due to some of their previous experiences, the medical providers were able to quickly adapt to their surroundings.

U.S. Navy Lt. Cmdr. Sarah Jagger, Rural Rapid Response Team Leader and a critical care nurse, reviews patient charts while working in the COVID-19 ward at the Northern Navajo Medical Center, Shiprock, N.M., Dec. 23, 2020. U.S. Northern Command, through U.S. Army North, remains committed to providing flexible U.S. Department of Defense support to the whole-of-America COVID-19 response. (U.S. Army photo by Spc. Ashunteia Smith)

“They were boots on the ground ready to go, and they’ve been wonderful to work with,” Smith said.

The Indian Health Service, an agency within the Department of Health and Human Services, provides a comprehensive health service delivery system for approximately 2.6 million American Indians and Alaska Natives who belong to 574 federally recognized tribes in 37 states.

As the COVID-19 pandemic progresses throughout the country, U.S. Northern Command, through U.S. Army North, remains committed to providing a flexible Defense Department in support of the whole-of-America COVID-19 response.

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