An epidemic crisis demands partnership

Perspective: Ron Allen


We are all in the midst of an epidemic crisis that few, if any, have ever experienced. COVID-19 has caused our economy to shut down and health care capacity is being challenged like never before. The social and psychological experience is putting enormous stress on individuals, families and our communities.

Our tribe and business operations, including 7 Cedars Casino and the Jamestown Family Dental Clinic, have been forced to lay off hundreds of dedicated employees, contributing to the hardships experienced by our North Olympic Peninsula community. We are fortunate to maintain our Jamestown Family Health Clinic, serving more than 17,000 patients including Jefferson County citizens.

Our clinic is working closely with both County Public Health officers Dr. Tom Locke and Dr. Allison Unthank to guide our efforts to assist in containing the COVID-19 crisis. Many in our communities are concerned about a lack of testing, so we have worked hard at re-engineering our health-care service with more telehealth, as well as monitoring COVID-19 test results to assess the trends and status on the Olympic Peninsula.

Our health clinic has established drive-through INR testing for anticoagulation patients to ensure their safety. We have acquired an Abbott COVID rapid-testing analyzer that allows us to test approximately 30 patients, healthcare workers or first responders per day to see if they are positive or negative for the virus. We use this analyzer in our new COVID respiratory/fever clinic with a separate entrance to a cordoned-off area of our clinic utilizing negative pressure exam rooms if needed. In addition, all patients entering our main clinic entrance are temperature-tested and given face masks if they do not arrive with one.

OMC has entered into a contract with University of Washington labs for more volume testing with results in 24 to 48 hours. Olympic Medical Center has a lab machine they can use for COVID tests; however, they need testing cartridges, which have not yet arrived. The next step in our region is to ensure quick test results, but we need better availability of testing supplies. In addition, it is crucial we establish a quick and thorough contact-tracing and quarantine system. We are confident our public health officers can develop, implement and scale such a system.

Meanwhile, we need to contain and defeat the impact of the virus on our community, particularly those most vulnerable, i.e. senior citizens and those with health conditions.

Our tribal clinic is partnering with Jefferson Healthcare and Olympic Medical Center to provide the front-line health-care warriors; we want to assure our community we are here to protect you, your family and friends.

We know the healthcare industry is working to develop a vaccine, but that remedy is many months away; some say more than a year. So, we must deal with the situation with the tools we have and can acquire in a short timeframe.

This crisis has taught us a tough preparation lesson with respect to having access to equipment and supplies for such an epidemic. Our ribe intends to work with our medical professionals to take measures that provide a supply center to be prepared if this situation happens again.

We understand the pressures to try to reboot our economy and put people back to work. It is disturbing that many small businesses will not survive this economic collapse. Yet, we will rebuild with the understanding that it might take us 18 to 24 months to get back to normal, and the difficult steps we are taking now are designed to keep us safe in the long run.

Stay-at-Home state-wide orders are a hard pill to swallow. Our Olympic Peninsula community has been amazingly disciplined about complying with the governor’s orders and exercising good hygiene practices, including wearing masks in public. It is encouraging that the state has a four-phase plan to reopen our economy. Even though it might not be the schedule we’d prefer, we can’t become the cause for a spike and return of cases and additional loss of lives.

We know we will survive this crisis and return to normal, but it will only happen with a true partnership with our health-care providers and coordinated leadership. Our tribe is committed to being part of the solution. Meanwhile, be well, wear masks in public and exercise good hygiene practices.

(Ron Allen is the tribal council chairman of the Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe.)


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