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Pharmacy Tech Michelle FranceThe Sault Tribe Health Division is providing health care to tribal members under circumstances that have left big city hospitals flummoxed. Each day of the COVID-19 scenario, with its eight health centers, a Recovery Housing unit and the Chi Mukwa Fitness Center, Sault Tribe Health Division rises to meet the need of the tribal community.

Designed to provide only primary care services, the tribal Health Division has completely switched gears to address the critical medical needs of tribal members. Since the start of the pandemic, its focus has been on providing essential healthcare services to patients, like pharmacy, medical care, education and disease prevention.

Emergency Preparedness
The Sault Tribe Health Division manages a public health preparedness grant and are meeting state of Michigan objectives. The division has been preparing for pandemics with its local partners for over a decade. Partners include local health departments, regional healthcare coalitions, local hospitals, other tribes, regional epidemiologists, local emergency managers, border patrol and law enforcement agencies, United States Coast Guards, the state of Michigan and even Ontario agencies Algoma Public Health Ontario and Public Health Ontario. Pandemic planning has been ongoing and exercised with local preparedness partners using table top and functional exercises. Planning for mitigation—the effort to reduce loss of life and property—has been conducted with preparedness partners. Staff throughout the Health Division have been educated and trained in various aspects of emergency preparedness.

Preparedness in Motion
Today, the Health Division's emergency planning has paid off. Sault Tribe is the only tribe in Michigan with a designated public health emergency coordinator. The division has established mutual aid agreements and memorandums of understanding (MOUs) with local response partners, as well.

Sault Tribe Health Division Director Leo Chugunov has ensured that healthcare workers are properly protected as they work with the public by meeting CDC safety guidelines. The Health Division has a mandatory N95 fit testing for all Health staff. The N95 respirator is the recommended CDC personal protective equipment (PPE) for infectious pathogens.  Staff have been trained in the Federal Incident Command structure, which is designed for crisis response in the United States. 

Front Line Heroes
Every day, throughout the COVID-19 crisis, Sault Tribe healthcare workers are on the front lines of the pandemic. Screening people for a highly infectious pathogen, tribal healthcare workers work diligently, professionally and bravely. They are the modern day warriors—Ogitchiida. Although our health clinics are small, especially when compared to the immense hospitals often seen on television, the Sault Tribe Health Division is meeting challenges that large institutions are barely able to grapple with.  

Photo: Pharmacy Tech Michelle France hands out prescriptions to patients in their cars at the Sault Ste. Marie Tribal health Clinic on April 1.

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Photo by Ken Bosma / CC BY