Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribe  

The Georgia Health Policy Center recently spoke to Donald J. Pelt, fire chief of the Pyramid Lake Fire Rescue/EMS, about the impact of the Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribe’s participation in the Rural Tribal COVID-19 Response grant program. 


To date, what has been the biggest accomplishment or win in your COVID program?  

Initially, like everybody else, we were overwhelmed with COVID. We had a grant writer, who found this grant and asked me what I wanted to try to get out of it. I wanted an ambulance, and our health clinic wanted a health educator who could go around the reservation to help explain to people how to prevent COVID-19. When we were awarded the grant, the health clinic was not able to do it, so the fire department took over. We put one of our people in the place of the educator, which worked out really well, because at that time, the state of Nevada wanted to put together a strike team to go throughout the rural northern end of the state to administer vaccines and education. So, we were able to supply an ambulance and two people to go out in the field. So, not only did we educate folks here on the reservation, but we educated people in 17 towns and three other reservations. The timing was such that we were able to pull that off and we got our ambulance! 


What is a tip or early learning that you would share with another tribal organization?  

Stay in contact with your Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) team. They have been outstanding at helping us make sure that we can manage the resources. Whenever we came up with an idea, they have been very receptive. We credit this to the fact that we are talking to them a lot. We meet every month to identify anything before it becomes a problem, and we have not had any problems. Also, keep your reporting up to date. That is huge.  


How do you see participation in the Federal Office of Rural Health Policy’s COVID-19 grant program impacting your broader telehealth or health improvement efforts? 

Our area is classified as frontier. We are so very rural, and our closest hospital is over 35 miles away. There are 11 of us full-time in the fire department and we have another five on-call that we can bring in. Just the reservation area is 742 square miles. We cover a lot of ground — all the way over to the border with California and other counties here in Nevada. So, we spend a lot of time on the road with our patients. Through the funding we have been able to purchase the appropriate IV pumps that will help cover long-term transports instead of having to dose folks constantly and help keep our patients as comfortable as possible on long transports. Even though we initially bought it for COVID, we will be lucky to get 10 to 15 years of life out of it. It will help us for quite some time. 


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

Having the ability to extend out grant funding has been huge for us in a rural community. I would love to see the federal government continue to run those types of rural assistance out to emergency medical services (EMS). It is easier in the clinics and the hospital because they are a fixed facility. This is the first time we have been able to receive help on the EMS side of the house. To get out and reach out to folks in the community with the equipment, the manpower, and the education has been tremendous for us. We have had our share of COVID cases, but we have not been in an absolute COVID crisis like other communities have been in. We attribute a lot of that to the HRSA funding that also allowed us to get the proper masks to give away so that people could take care of themselves. 

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