116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
MESKWAKI NATION — The Meskwaki Health Services Clinic has received the “Heroes in Health Award,” the most prestigious award from the National Indian Health Board (NIHB).
Located in Washington, D.C. on Capitol Hill, the nonprofit NIHB provides a variety of services to tribes including advocacy, policy formation, regulatory tracking, and Indian health research. Annually, they recognize a small group of people/organizations who demonstrate outstanding service in the quest to improve Native health and seek to honor the work being done all around Indian Country.
One of only a handful of agencies who received this year’s award earlier this month, the health care team at the Meskwaki Health Clinic worked throughout the pandemic, providing more than 6,000 COVID-19 shots to the settlement’s residents and staff, as well as to underserved communities throughout central Iowa. As a tribe of just over 1,450 people, the health clinic served more than four times their tribe’s population, providing shots to anyone wishing to be vaccinated. For this, the NIHB awarded the Meskwaki Nation for their service to Tribal communities amid the trying times of the coronavirus pandemic.
“It takes a great team to lead in an enormous project like this, and we have an outstanding staff who really stepped up to take on the challenge,” said Rudy Papakee, health director for the Meskwaki Nation, in a news release. “When the pandemic hit, we brainstormed about how we could help. With those initial planning efforts, the staff was ready to help be a part of the solution early on.”
Papakee and his team bypassed the state’s mandates to get earlier shipments of the COVID-19 vaccine via the federal government’s Indian Health Services. “I felt the connection with the Indian Health Service was going to be much stronger,” Papakee said. “They made some promises right from the beginning that once they got it, they’d get it into our hands. Looking back, that decision was integral to our early success.”
With an early vaccination supply and a willing community ready to receive the shot, the Meskwaki Settlement as a whole held a much higher vaccination rate than much of the U.S. early on and was able to remain virus-free for most of the summer. Additionally, staff was able to expand services, offering shots to people of all ages outside of the Settlement and throughout central Iowa.
Through federal COVID-19 funding, the clinic purchased a mobile vaccine clinic serving local school districts like North High School in Des Moines, Newton High School, and locally in schools including Marshalltown, East Marshall, and South Tama. Staff worked extended hours and traveled to numerous locations ensuring the vaccine reached as many people as possible, particularly underserved populations, elders, and youth. They provided walk-in clinics at multiple locations including their own clinic, Toledo Heights, Des Moines’ downtown Juneteenth Celebration and locally through the Meskwaki Bingo Casino Hotel. Moreover, Meskwaki staff continues to work through the evolving landscape of the COVID-19 pandemic and continues to offer the vaccine to anybody requesting one. Their goal is to provide accurate vaccine information and help dispel anti-vaccine hesitancy issues through leadership and support.
“Initially, organizing it seemed a bit overwhelming, but completely worth every bit of effort we’ve put in so far,” said Clinic Nurse Manager Sara Augspurger in the news release. “I’m super proud of our staff, I feel they deserve this award. We’re grateful to the NIHB for recognizing our work.”
Said Papakee: “I’d like to thank all our health staff, Meskwaki leadership, and the entire community for their support and assistance as we continue to navigate the pandemic together While we continue to meet the health care needs of the Tribe, we will begin offering vaccination boosters per CDC recommendations soon.”
Papakee also said that while COVID-19 has been an ongoing concern, he continues to worry about staff burnout and impacts to staff with the ongoing pandemic. “Staff have shown significant resilience and have continued to rise to the challenges presented in the fight against COVID-19. Receiving such an award affirms their efforts are recognized and appreciated not just locally, but on a national level.”