Tribe recognized for ‘dedication, can do attitude, perseverance’ in COVID operations

ADA, Okla. - Federal officials heading the national COVID-19 response recognized the Chickasaw Nation for its integrated approach to combating the pandemic during a March 4 visit.

Maj. Gen. Christopher J. Sharpsten presented the Chickasaw Nation with a Certificate of Appreciation on behalf of the U.S. Department of Defense and Department of Health and Human Services in recognition of administering the 20,000th dose of COVID-19 vaccine.

“The Chickasaw Nation’s dedication, can do attitude, and perseverance exemplifies the core values of Unified in Purpose, which will enable us to defeat COVID-19 in our communities,” the certificate states.

Prior to the presentation, Governor Bill Anoatubby led a roundtable discussion regarding the Chickasaw Nation’s COVID-19 response with several federal Department of Defense and Health and Human Services officials, along with Chickasaw Nation health officials.

“What we are doing to prepare, respond and prevent COVID-19 is well-coordinated within the entire Chickasaw Nation,” Gov. Anoatubby said. “It is not just one department. It is all the departments working together to make things better for our people.

“That is what our mission is, to enhance the overall quality of life of our people. If we can save lives, we are certainly going to do our best to save lives.”

Gov. Anoatubby said health care was an extremely high priority for the Chickasaw Nation. When the pandemic first surfaced, he said, decisions were based on consultations with health systems staff members.

“When the pandemic began we drew on the expertise of our health system to make decisions on what we were going to do,” he said. “They have proved very fruitful. We made our decisions and based our operations on the best science. We have also worked closely with the Indian Health Service and other federal agencies. We are really thankful for your support.”

Maj. Gen. Sharpsten, deputy director for supply, production and distribution for the COVID-19 response, attended the tour.

He leads a national operation charged with delivering 300 million doses of safe, effective COVID-19 vaccine as part of a broader strategy to accelerate the development, manufacturing, and distribution of vaccines and therapeutics.

Maj. Gen. Sharpsten’s visit to the Chickasaw Nation is part of a tour by federal officials of select sites in the 64 national geographic jurisdictions that receive weekly vaccine allocations. The tour looks to discern best practices processes.

During the meeting, Chickasaw Nation Department of Health Secretary Dr. Charles Grim and Undersecretary Dr. John Krueger detailed the timeline of the Chickasaw Nation’s COVID-19 response. The response, Drs. Grim and Krueger reported, began with a March 2020 declaration of a public health emergency within the Chickasaw Nation, and continues with the ongoing vaccine administration.

In addition to offering the COVID-19 vaccine to Chickasaw citizens and their spouses, the Chickasaw Nation recently expanded COVID-19 vaccine opportunities to all members of the public at no cost.

“Opening up the vaccines is a great initiative and shows the leadership within the state,” Gen. Sharpsten said. “You operate a great opportunity not only for yourself but for the surrounding communities.”

The tour ended at the new COVID-19 Emergency Operations Facility, 1300 Cradduck Road, Ada. The site recently opened for COVID-19 vaccination distribution with the capacity to serve 16 lanes of vehicle traffic.

The facility will also serve as the Chickasaw Nation’s COVID-19 incident command center. The 40,000-square-foot renovated property will facilitate coordination among local, state, tribal, federal and other emergency management systems.

Maj. Gen. Sharpsten was accompanied by Maj. Nicholas R. Gauvin, executive officer for the deputy director for supply, production and distribution of the federal response; Elizabeth A. Fowler, acting director of the Indian Health Service; Dr. Satish K. Pillai, deputy director of the division of preparedness and emerging infections; and Maj. Ashley M. Ruhe.

Rear Adm. Travis Watts, Rear Adm. Greg Woitte, Capt. Rob Hayes, Lt. Cmdr. Karsten Smith and Cmdr. Andrea Klimo, with the National Supply Service Center, also attended the tour.