Native American health center receives body bags instead of coronavirus supplies
A community health center treating Native Americans in the Seattle area issued an urgent call for medical supplies to local, state and federal agencies – but instead received “a box of body bags,” according to a report.
“My team turned ghost white,” Esther Lucero, CEO of the Seattle Indian Health Board told NBC News. “We asked for tests, and they sent us a box of body bags.”
Lucero said bags bearing tags that read “attach to toe” was a mistaken delivery to the center — which serves some 6,000 people a year in Seattle and King County – from a distributor via the county Health Department.
Abigail Echo-Hawk, the health board’s chief research officer, said the macabre shipment resonates among Native American communities across the country during the coronavirus 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,” Echo-Hawk told NBC.
“This is a metaphor for what’s happening,” she added.
On Tuesday, the federal government announced it would send billions of dollars in pandemic-relief funds to tribal governments, money that was delayed for more than a month because of a legal dispute.
Echo-Hawk said she was concerned about whether the center will be able to provide coronavirus testing or get enough personal protective equipment as businesses reopen and if a second wave of the virus hits the area.
“My questions is: Are we going to keep getting body bags or are we going to get what we actually need?” she said.
In March, the Federal Emergency Management Agency offered to provide testing for the center, but the logistics involved didn’t make it feasible, Lucero told the network.
After turning down FEMA’s offer, the body bags showed up, she said, adding that the county did help deliver about 200 testing kits through FEMA.
“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.”
The federal government has an obligation to provide health care to all Native Americans according to longstanding treaties with Indian tribes.
On Tuesday, the Treasury and Interior departments announced the distribution of $4.8 billion to tribal governments, but urban Indian programs are not part of this phase.
Sen. Tom Udall, (D-New Mexico), vice chairman of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, said the funds should have been sent at the outset of the pandemic.
“Treasury’s announcement is the definition of ‘too little, too late,’” Udall said in a statement. “It comes weeks after the deadline and billions of dollars short.”
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