Bay Mills Health Center to be recognized by IHS

BAY MILLS — The Bay Mills Health Center Pandemic Response Team is being recognized for their efforts during the pandemic by the Indian Health Service. The team will be awarded the IHS Director’s Award award at ceremonies on Friday, June 10 in Bloomington, Minn.

The award recognizes service “significantly advancing the IHS mission and goals through enhancements supporting IHS strategic goals, which include: to ensure that comprehensive, culturally appropriate personal and public health services are available and accessible to American Indian and Alaska Native people; to promote excellence and quality through innovation of the Indian health system into an optimally performing organization; and to strengthen IHS program management and operations.”

Part of the criteria to receive this honor includes “unusual acts of competence, compassion, or heroism” and “outstanding contributions to a committee or task force.”

Bay Mills received their first batch of testing supplies from the Indian Health Services in June of 2020. From there, their efforts to protect the community flourished.

The BMHC pandemic response efforts included developing a call center, implementing drive-up testing and vaccination clinics, and regularly communicating with elected officials and the community.

In 2021, 3,050 COVID-19 tests were administered to patients, employees, and the general public. To provide an extra layer of protection for BMHC staff and patients, tests were administered outdoors while test recipients remained in their vehicles. Staff endured grueling winter weather to provide this critical service. Members of the team worked night and day, focused on community safety.

“Initially staff time consisted of  testing tribal members, patients, Chippewa County residents. This was later expanded to anyone one who needed to be tested,” said Health Director Audrey Breakie.  “It was  mayhem, but we were able to streamline the process and  test multiple people. We did this more as a surveillance technique initially, as some individuals were non-symptomatic and we wanted to deter the spread of the virus.”

In addition to regular testing, BMHC administered vaccines efficiently by utilizing resources in-house, and initiating partnerships with other local agencies including Lake Superior State University, War Memorial Hospital, Chippewa County Health Department, and the Inter-Tribal Council of Michigan.  Mass vaccinations clinics were held throughout the county to help stop the spread of COVID-19.

When vaccines were in short supply, tribal members traveled from as far away as Colorado and Texas to get the vaccine.

“We had tremendous support from tribal administration to test and then vaccinate all, this made our work considerably easier.   The most amazing was our staff members, they gave and gave endlessly  testing, vaccinating and tracking those with the virus.  They provided supplies such as education,  thermometers  and pulse oximeters,” said Breakie.  “I sit back today and  I am in awe of those who stepped up, demonstrated leadership and skill sets not comparable to anything I have ever seen.  I am extremely grateful and continue to be for this team’s response to this pandemic I have a respect for this staff like no other.”

Bay Mills Health Center continues to vaccinate and educate individuals in the tricounty area. To date, they have fully vaccinated 3,358 individuals.

“Do I believe we are through the pandemic? I am very cautious to make that statement.  But I do know we have more tools and the country has more tools at our fingertips to treat those who become infected with the virus and all its variants to save lives,” concluded Breakie.

This story was prepared by the staff at EUP News or contributed from an outside source.

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