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NSHC Preparing Its Staff for Village Trips Based on Lack of COVID-19 Cases in Region

Dental therapist Bobby Curtis in NSHC's dental clinic in Nome. Photo: Matthew F. Smith, KNOM.

Norton Sound Health Corporation employees will resume traveling to villages for medical visits this week. That includes the Audiology, Eye Care, and Physical Therapy departments within the regional hospital.

NSHC’s Medical Director, Dr. Mark Peterson, spoke to the reasoning behind the health-corporation’s decision during a daily teleconference with tribal members yesterday.

“So we’ve done pretty extensive testing in our region, now 10% of our region, and we don’t know of any active cases in Nome…So Dr. (Anne) Zink’s comment was that travel between in-region communities and Nome could be a fairly safe thing to do. So that was one comment, that going from a village to Nome and back should be a fairly safe thing to do, but each village community has to make its own decision on that.”

During Monday morning’s teleconference, Opik Ahkinga with the Native Village of Diomede said the island-community will still require anyone coming into the village, whether they’re NSHC staff or not, to quarantine for 14 days upon their arrival. Ahkinga says their community’s decision is for the safety of their residents.

According to NSHC’s CEO Angie Gorn, written approval from the local tribal council will be requested in advance before NSHC sends its staff to any regional community. Gorn also emphasizes that each employee that plans to travel will be tested for COVID-19 and show a negative result first.

Dr. Peterson says the corporation plans to implement required COVID-19 testing for all of its clinical staff later this week.

“Just so everyone is aware, we will be asking our clinical staff, that’s doctors, nurses, and every other department that has direct patient contact; and that’s a lot of different departments, even including housekeeping and dietary and other departments that have even brief patient encounters, we’re going to be asking them to do testing every two weeks.”

Thus far, staff with Audiology are set to travel to Savoonga and Eye Care is prepared to go to White Mountain this week. The Physical Therapy department is waiting on approval to travel to Brevig Mission and Shishmaref.

According to the self-governance liaison with NSHC, Megan Alvanna-Stimpfle, she and a group from the State of Alaska including Dr. Anne Zink, and Dr. Alexander Eastman from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, will be doing a fly over to all five “unserviced” communities in the Bering Strait region. That journey will begin with a stop in Stebbins later today.

Image at top: A former NSHC dental therapist Bobby Curtis in the Norton Sound Regional Hospital’s dental clinic in Nome. Photo from Matthew F. Smith, KNOM file.

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