State Watch

Native health center says it received body bags after it asked for supplies to fight coronavirus

The Seattle Indian Health Board, a community health center that services the Native American population in Seattle and King County in Washington state, said it received an order of body bags earlier this year when it asked for more medical supplies amid the novel coronavirus pandemic, NBC News reports.

Esther Lucero, who serves as the center’s chief executive officer, told the network that her team “turned ghost white” when the bags arrived in March.

“We asked for tests, and they sent us a box of body bags,” she said. 

Lucero said the body bags were sent by mistake from a distributor that meant to ship them to a local health department. The mix-up reportedly came just weeks after the center had also requested more supplies from government agencies to help combat the ongoing pandemic.

However, Abigail Echo-Hawk, who is the chief research officer for the center, said in a statement to NBC News that the error is “a metaphor for what’s happening” amid the outbreak.

“The Navajo Nation is in a crisis with cases, and there are tribes and other Indian organizations across the country that are in similar crises and can use medical supplies and help instead of watching people die,” she said.

Hospitals and clinics in a number of Native American communities are trying to grapple with a rise in coronavirus cases with a limited amount of resources and funding. 

The federal government reserved $8 billion dollars in funding for Native American tribes during the pandemic in the CARES Act passed in March. However, only a portion of that amount has been allocated so far amid an ongoing court battle over which groups should receive funding.

On Tuesday, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said his agency would begin “making $4.8 billion in critical funds available to tribal governments in all states” in the meantime to ensure relief is provided to the Native community during the crisis.

Officials with the Seattle Indian Health Board told NBC News that the center currently has sufficient supplies needed to fight the outbreak. However, they stressed the need for more federal and state support for health centers like their own.

“We need to have the correct resources and be included at the state and federal level,” Echo-Hawk told NBC News.

“Until then, Native organizations like mine are going to push forward to create the resources needed for us and by us,” she added.

Tags Coronavirus Steven Mnuchin

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