$4B headed to Indian Country to help fight COVID-19

The Reno Sparks Tribal Health Center. (Photo: Reno-Sparks Indian Colony, rsic.org)
Reno Sparks Tribal Health Center
The Reno Sparks Tribal Health Center is one of 14 centers in Nevada that has distributed vaccines through the federal Indian Health Service. (Photo courtesy Reno-Sparks Indian Colony)

On Friday, the White House announced it will invest more than $4 billion to combat COVID-19 in Indian Country.

Funding comes from the American Rescue Plan and is meant to expand COVID-19 vaccinations, testing and treatment. The investment will also help increase preventative health services to American Indians and Alaska Natives at higher risk for COVID-19 by expanding hospital and health clinic services.

The Indian Health Service (IHS) has already administered more than 1 million doses of the COVID-19 vaccine. In Nevada, Tribal Nations have been successful in vaccinating a high percentage of members quickly and efficiently, despite early challenges.

“The funds announced today are an example of the Biden administration’s support for Indian Country,” said Asha Petoskey, an IHS spokesperson in a statement. “We will continue to work in partnership with our tribal and urban Indian organization partners to distribute these critical resources for the immediate support of our COVID-19 response.”

The funds will also help make up for lost reimbursements experienced by tribes during the pandemic, said Petoskey.

From the funds, IHS will invest $600 million to support increased vaccinations, including mobile vaccine clinics to reach more rural reservations.

A recent study by the Urban Indian Health Institute found that 75 percent of American Indians and Alaska Natives are willing to receive the COVID-19 vaccine, largely out of a sense of responsibility to protect their community. Now the challenge is providing those vaccines to all who want them.

IHS will also invest $1 billion from the additional funds to increase contact tracing, and drive-through and pop-up testing sites to help stop the spread of COVID-19 among Tribal Nations.

In January, the seven-day rolling average for positive COVID-19 cases in the entire IHS Phoenix health service area, which serves all of Nevada, was a little over 40 percent, a sharp COVID-19 spike that started in October. It’s now declined to about 3.3 percent.

The IHS Phoenix health service area also has the second-highest cumulative percent positive COVID-19 tests of all 12 IHS service areas, making vaccine rollout all the more important in Nevada.

Another $2 billion will be used to reimburse tribal health systems for care provided during the pandemic and for financial losses attributed to fewer patients being seen for other health needs.

According to a recent CDC report, American Indians and Alaska Natives were 3.5 times more likely to get COVID-19 than the non-Hispanic white population, and have had the highest hospitalization rate of any racial or ethnic group. Native people are also more than four times as likely to be hospitalized as a result of COVID-19.

The $4 billion investment will also provide $500 million to support overall health care services in Indian Country. IHS hopes the investment will strengthen long-term health care in Indian Country by investing in high-quality provider salaries and services.

Additionally, more than $84 million will be invested in assistance for urban Indian organizations, and $140 million will go to health IT and the necessary equipment to provide telehealth services. 

Jeniffer Solis
Reporter | Jeniffer was born and raised in Las Vegas, Nevada where she attended the University of Nevada, Las Vegas before graduating in 2017 with a B.A in Journalism and Media Studies. While at UNLV she was a senior staff writer for the student newspaper, the UNLV Scarlet and Gray Free Press, and a news reporter for KUNV 91.5 FM, covering everything from the Route 91 shooting to UNLV housing. She has also contributed to the UNLV News Center and worked as a production engineer for several KUNV broadcasts before joining the Nevada Current. She’s an Aries.