The Nez Perce Tribe and Idaho National Guard work together during COVID-19

Tribes and Idaho National Guard work together

Master Sgt. Becky Vanshur/Idaho Military Division Public Affairs

Nez Perce Reservation, IDAHO – Idaho National Guard and Nez Perce dental personnel teamed up Nov. 10 – 13 as part of a larger effort to recover from the summer’s surge of COVID-19 cases plaguing northern Idaho.

The Nez Perce Tribe and the Idaho National Guard are working together through a program known as Innovative Readiness Training to help the Nez Perce community’s healthcare system recover after becoming backlogged during a community-wide shut down earlier this year. The dental visit was part of a larger medical effort taking place between the tribe and the Idaho National Guard.

“Idaho National Guard members are driven by a sense of purpose,” said Maj. Gen. Michael Garshak, the adjutant general of Idaho. “IRT collaboration like this not only enables us to sharpen our military skills, but it also provides great opportunities to make positive impacts to the communities of Idaho and a difference in the lives of our fellow citizens.”

The Nez Perce tribe submitted a collaborative IRT application earlier this summer to request assistance in addressing their overwhelmed medical staff resulting from the second wave of COVID-19 cases. The Idaho National Guard responded by sending medical and dental citizen-Soldiers and Airmen performing three missions—a two-part diabetic IRT in June and October, a medical IRT in August and most recently the dental IRT in November, which resulted in dental screenings of nearly 250 Nez Perce school-aged children. Activities also included helping local clinics complete high school sports physicals and preschool Head Start program physical exams before the start of sports season and the school year.

“Working with their local health care personnel helps us build relationships with the tribes while training our Idaho National Guard medical personnel,” said Lt. Col. Tina Williams, an occupational health nurse for the Idaho Army National Guard. “Our mission is to help the Nez Perce community catch up on a backlog of patients while providing Guardsmen relevant training and a unique experience by seeing both adults and children at the Nez Perce clinics.”

Idaho National Guard personnel also assisted tribe clinicians at two large COVID-19 vaccination clinics located at Lapwai and Kamiah.

“The National Guard has helped us with several projects throughout the pandemic,” said Roxie Kim Hartwig, M.D. at Nimiipuu Health with the Nez Perce Tribe. “One of our mass vaccination events would have been impossible without the Idaho National Guard. The purpose of the diabetic IRT is to help us catch up with care that has been delayed due to the pandemic and provides training for the National Guard medical staff to gain some practical knowledge about our medical application.”

Williams said the Nez Perce staff was thankful for the Idaho National Guard’s timely assistance with the diabetic clinics, sports physicals and dental exams as the tribe is beginning to see another increase in COVID-19 screenings.