The Georgia Health Policy Center recently spoke to Jim Godin, director of health care, quality and accreditation at the Copper River Native Association and incident commander for the COVID-19 emergency response, about the Tribal health organization’s efforts to combat COVID-19. 


To date, what has been the biggest accomplishment in your COVID-19 grant program?  

We were one of the few, and the first rural, Alaska health center to offer monoclonal antibody therapy, which has been one of our largest successes in preventing hospitalizations amongst our high-risk population. I am proud to say we have become essentially the epicenter for testing and immunization in our region — an area the size of West Virginia. Of course, everybody is doing everything that they can, but we have been able to establish ourselves as one of the centers for testing and immunization in an area that really lacks a lot of resources and that has been crucial to the success for our region throughout the pandemic. 

Overnight, we transformed from a rural day clinic offering routine preventative services, really with an average operational tempo, to an emergency response organization in the midst of a pandemic. Our teams have been operating in a capacity that we couldn’t have even imagined with extended hours. We have offered free testing for the entirety of that pandemic.  


What is a tip or learning you would share with others focused on combatting COVID-19?  

Our success is attributed to the combination of resources that have been available to us. It is not just one federal grant that ensures success in this environment. We made a concerted effort to take advantage of all the resources that were available to us — money, time, people. Community members and organizations have really been the key to success in what we are doing here.  

We were deliberate about creating a separate entity early in the pandemic to specifically deal with COVID-19 and that helps separate some of that burden from our primary care team. Not every organization has that luxury. We are in a rural environment, and we don’t have a huge labor pool to pull from. So, if we can do it, most organizations can do it and probably have already done so. We made a deliberate effort to create a divide between those two areas, mainly out of the preservation of our staff. We didn’t want them to burn out and we have interest in being able to provide services for the long term to our community. There are certain times you have to say ‘no’ to being able to provide certain things. Admittedly the last three months have been the worst period of the pandemic for us since it started. Recently, we had to pull back on certain other services to prioritize addressing the more urgent needs. But we, and a few other regional community health centers, have been able to meet the needs of our region that has really limited health care access at the time when the community needed it the most. 


How do you see participation in the grant program as impacting your broader health improvement efforts? 

Oddly enough, we have seen a huge increase in our patient population of individuals coming to receive services. That has opened the door for us to introduce them to what we were doing here already and the preventative care options that they have. Yes, we are trying to address the immediate need of COVID-19 and everything that is involved in that. But we are leveraging that as an opportunity to really lean into screening and preventative care. We hope to address issues on the front end, as opposed to treating the symptoms or the ongoing health effects that they have. 


How will your organization emerge stronger from the pandemic? 

Probably for most organizations that have been able to successfully navigate this process, there are cultural changes that occur — a resiliency that comes from going through something like this. Our organization is not what it was a year and a half or two years ago. None of the organizations are. Most have been able to make it through and the people that have made it through with that organization develop a bond as a team that they could not have built through normal practices. Emerging from the pandemic, there is a resilient bond that has been built by going through something that you could have never imagined that having gone through with someone else. I think that is really going to be our strength moving forward. 


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