The Georgia Health Policy Center recently spoke to Brittany Wind, grants director; Jenna Kudak, health services director; and Lisa Blahosky-Olivarez, public health director for the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe, about the tribe’s efforts to combat COVID-19.

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

Jenna: One of our biggest wins was mass testing. We were able to come together as a really large team and do something really big. We were able to run out to four different areas and do drive-through testing in partnership with the Mayo Clinic. Results were back within a few days, and it was nice to get a community baseline of where we were sitting. It brought some reassurance to the community that our education efforts were working and we are keeping COVID-19 at bay. It gave us a lot to celebrate in a time when there really wasn’t a lot to celebrate.  

Lisa: The collaborations that happened between public health; the clinic; even our corporation, the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe Corporate Commission; and housing brought everybody together to deliver education at that time. Our collaboration efforts were really successful. 

Brittany: Our biggest accomplishment is just completing the testing itself — getting everyone on board, launching the testing, and getting it out. Lots of teamwork went into it and I am very proud of the team that helped put this all together. 

What is a tip or learning that you would share with others?  

Jenna: Education is key. We tried early on to get postings on Facebook and had flyers created. We went door to door to people with resources and education. These were our biggest tools to get information out to the community. It kept the stress levels down and it also helped people follow a response pattern; so, if they felt these types of symptoms, they knew what they need to do next. Everybody had a plan and knew who to call. 

Lisa: Public health collaborated with the Mille Lacs corporate for food distribution. I think all of those things, on top of all of the work of the Tribal Emergency Response Committee made the community feel safe. It was extremely important that our community could trust and depend on us.

How do you see participation in the Federal Office of Rural Health Policy’s grantee program impacting your broader health improvement efforts?   

Lisa: We made long-lasting collaborations that didn’t exist before. I believe that everybody will be more inclined to come to the table, even without a pandemic.  

Jenna: This grant also helped us identify a lot of resources. It was a supportive team behind the grant and that level of support was really good to hear. Also, some of the resources that we were able to buy through this grant, like tables and chairs, and other basic things, we will continue to use when we go out into the community — to continue to meet our community where they are at with needs — to keep everybody safe and healthy.  

What will your tribe be doing more of or differently to emerge stronger from the pandemic? 

Jenna: I think moving forward from the pandemic, one thing that will help us emerge stronger is continuing to go out into the community and meeting people and getting resources out there — meeting their needs instead of waiting for them to come to us. 

Brittany: Another positive is that this team definitely showed the community that we are here for them. And not just eight to five Monday through Friday. This team was available 24-7 to answer questions. I think that made a huge impact for the entire community. 

Lisa: There is trust that we are doing the best that we can and there is an appreciation level that is here for that effort. I don’t think that without the help of grants and all of us working together, we could have ever had this excellent outcome. 

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