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CONTRIBUTED PHOTO The Meskwaki Health Clinic purchased this mobile vaccination unit to serve local school districts throughout central Iowa. Due to the clinic’s rapid response to COVID-19, she received the National Indian Health Board’s most prestigious award, Heroes in Health Award.

TAMA – The National Indian Health Board will present the Meskwaki Health Clinic with its most prestigious award, the “Prize for health heroes”, virtually October 6.

Based in Washington DC on Capitol Hill, the nonprofit provides a variety of services to tribes, including advocacy, policy development, regulatory monitoring, and Indian health research. Each year they recognize a small group of individuals / organizations who demonstrate exceptional service in the quest to improve the health of Indigenous people and seek to honor the good work being done across Indian country.

One of the few agencies to receive this year’s award, the healthcare team at Meskwaki Health Clinic have worked tirelessly throughout the pandemic, providing more than 6,000 COVID-19 injections to residents and facility staff, as well as underserved communities. throughout central Iowa. As a tribe of just over 1,450 people, the health clinic has served more than four times the population of its tribe, providing life-saving vaccines to anyone wishing to be vaccinated. For this, the NIHB Program wishes to thank and reward the Meskwaki Nation for its exceptional service to tribal communities amid the difficult times of the coronavirus pandemic.

“It takes a great team to lead a huge project like this, and we have an exceptional staff who really stepped up to the challenge. When the pandemic hit, we thought about how we could help. With these initial planning efforts, staff were ready to be part of the solution from the start ”, Health director Rudy Papakee said.

Leading the way, Papakee and his team bypassed state mandates to secure previous shipments of the COVID-19 vaccine through the Indian health services of the federal government.

“I felt that the link with the Indian health service was going to be much stronger”, said Papakee. “They promised from the start that once they got it, they would put it in our hands. Looking back, this decision was integral to our initial success.

With an early vaccine supply and a community willing to receive the vaccine, the Meskwaki colony as a whole had a much higher vaccination rate than most of the United States at the start and was able to remain virus free for most of the time. of summer. Additionally, staff were able to expand services, offering injections to people of all ages outside the colony and throughout central Iowa.

With federal COVID-19 funding, the clinic purchased a mobile vaccination clinic serving local school districts like North High School in Des Moines, Newton High School and locally at schools such as Marshalltown, East Marshall and South Tama. Staff worked long hours and traveled to many places to make sure the vaccine reached as many people as possible, especially underserved populations, the elderly and young people. They have offered walk-in clinics at several locations including the Toledo Heights Clinic, the Downtown Des Moines Juneteenth Celebration and locally through the Meskwaki Bingo Casino Hotel. Additionally, Meskwaki staff continue to work on the changing landscape of the COVID-19 pandemic and continue to offer the vaccine to anyone who requests it. Its goal is to provide accurate information about vaccines and to help dispel vaccine hesitancy issues through leadership and support.

“At first the organization seemed a bit overwhelming, but it was totally worth all the effort we’ve put in so far. I’m super proud of our staff, I think they deserve this award. We are grateful to NIHB for recognizing our work. said Sara Augspurger, nurse manager of the clinic.

“I want to thank all of our healthcare staff, Meskwaki leaders and the entire community for their support and help as we continue to navigate the pandemic together. As we continue to meet the health care needs of the tribe, we will soon begin offering booster shots as per CDC recommendations, ” said Papakee.

He also said that while COVID-19 is an ongoing concern, he continues to be concerned about staff exhaustion and impacts on staff with the ongoing pandemic.

“The staff have shown great resilience and have continued to meet the challenges posed by the fight against COVID-19. Receiving such an award confirms that their efforts are recognized and appreciated not only locally but nationally ”, said Papakee.

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