Long before the COVID-19 pandemic swept the globe, tribal nations suffered from higher mortality rates from infectious diseases than the general population. Add to that an underfunded healthcare system, higher rates of poverty, and a limited inventory of personal protective equipment, and Native American communities could only expect the worst outcomes during the pandemic.
“That’s exactly what we’re experiencing in Indian Country right now from the Navajo Nation,” says Mary Owen, director of the Center of American Indian and Minority Health and assistant professor in the Department of Family Medicine and Biobehavioral Health, both at the U of M Medical School, Duluth campus. “They are third in the nation on being the most impacted by COVID-19, after New York City and New Jersey.”
Owen has teamed up with two Native American-owned companies that help match physicians and healthcare professionals to tribal communities most in need during the COVID-19 pandemic. But it’s not just the immediate health problems that the disease brings to Native American communities; it's also setbacks to primary funding sources like casinos and tourism, which help support essential functions.
“Now, without those economic bases, we know that health is going to be impacted for a long time to come,” says Owen, who is also president-elect of the Association of American Indian Physicians.
So far, six full-time providers from Minnesota, including two family physicians, have signed up to volunteer their time and care at tribal sites.