Tribe steps up health service as pandemic numbers rise

Staff at the Cherokee Nation Outpatient Health Center conduct screenings outside for COVID-19.

Oklahoma saw an increase in positive COVID-19 cases over the past week, bringing the total number up to more than 13,000 statewide. And Cherokee Nation Health Services facilities remain vigilant in case of an increase in patient visits.

Last week, the tribe had seen 169 positive coronavirus cases, but that number reached 195 on Monday, June 29. The situation has kept safety protocols - such as requiring everyone to wear face masks - in place at CNHS facilities.

"Additionally, we are focused on cleaning and monitoring the environment, increasing the number of COVID-19 tests for patients and staff, strict isolation precautions and the restriction of visitors, and utilizing teams of staff to focus on contact tracing and patient monitoring," said Dr. R. Stephen Jones, executive director of Health Services.

The tribe has been working with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, as well as Indian Health Services, since the virus began to spread throughout the U.S. in early March. W.W. Hastings Hospital, as well as the tribe's health centers, continue to provide routine medical care for patients. It has also found alternative ways for patients to speak with their doctors.

"We are taking every possible measure to provide a clean and safe environment for all of our patients so they feel confident when seeking medical care with us," said Jones. "Throughout the pandemic, we have increased the number of patients cared for via telemedicine and we continue to enhance the technological infrastructure to better serve our patient population. Since a state of emergency due to COVID-19 was declared in the Cherokee Nation in March, Cherokee Nation Health Services has utilized more than 22,000 telehealth visits."

Those who plan on visiting a CNHS facility should expect to undergo screening upon entry, including having their temperature checked and being asked a short list of questions about symptoms of COVID-19. Only those who are under 2 years of age may enter without a mask. Visitors are prohibited except for children and adults with specific special needs.

Many consider the coronavirus pandemic to be an unprecedented phenomenon. It's left many challenges for health facilities across the country, including the Cherokee Nation's.

"Maintaining a team of screeners so we can quickly screen all of our staff has been a challenge for our organization, but one that our employees have embraced and accomplished quickly," said Jones. "Protecting the health care workforce, while increasing the schedule of cleaning, has required a great deal of cooperation from everyone so our environment is clean and safe. Our staff have risen to the occasion and have dealt admirably with the demands of wearing the personal protective equipment required to keep themselves and everyone in our facilities safe."

Get help

The tribe has established a call center, 1-833-528-0063, for Cherokee Nation citizens with questions about COVID-19. The center is open from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., Monday through Friday. Tribal citizens who have symptoms - cough, fever, respiratory problems - should contact their CNHS facility before entering. For more information, visit www.cherokee.org.

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