Nez Perce Tribe, Idaho Guard work together during pandemic

Nez Perce Tribe, Idaho Guard work together during pandemic
Idaho National Guard medical and dental citizen-Soldiers and Airmen teamed up with Nez Perce healthcare personnel as part of a larger effort to recover from the summer’s surge of COVID-19 cases plaguing northern Idaho. Photo credit U.S. Army/Master Sgt. Becky Vanshur

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

Working together through a program known as Innovative Readiness Training, the Idaho National Guard is assisting the Nez Perce community’s health care system with an extensive backlog after a community-wide shutdown earlier this year. The dental visit was part of a more comprehensive medical effort between the tribe and the Idaho National Guard.

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“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 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 Citizen-Airmen performing three missions: a two-part diabetic IRT in June and October, a medical IRT in August and the dental IRT in November, which resulted in dental screenings of nearly 250 Nez Perce school-age children. Activities also included helping local clinics complete high school sports physicals and preschool Head Start program physical exams before 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 members also assisted tribe clinicians at two large COVID-19 vaccination clinics at Lapwai and Kamiah.

“The National Guard has helped us with several projects throughout the pandemic,” said Dr. Roxie Kim Hartwig 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.”

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