Rio Arriba County Donates Beds And PPE To Assist Navajo Nation With COVID-19 Response

PIC 2_RAC Leadership covid-19 support

Rio Arriba County leadership team oversees the transfer of 15 beds to assist in the Navajo Nation’s response to COVID-19 cases. Courtesy photo

PIC 3_RMCH Bed Pick-upWilliam “Bill” Camarota, Special Projects and Safety Officer for WellSpring Recovery Center Behavioral Health Services, drove to Espanola with a trailer to pick up the beds and equipment to take back to RMCH. Courtesy photo

PIC 1_Beds loadingLoading beds for transport to Rehoboth McKinley Christian Hospital in Gallup are Rio Arriba County Emergency Chief Alfredo Montoya, County Manager Tomas Campos, Assistant County Manager Leo Marquez, County Commission Chair Leo Jaramillo and Rio Arriba County volunteer firefighters. Courtesy photo


As the COVID-19 infection rates continue to rise at an alarming rate in the Navajo Nation beds and equipment are being donated by Rio Arriba County to help with the response. A total of 15 beds and personal protective equipment (PPE) of 123 gowns and 60 3-D printed N95 masks are currently being transported to Rehoboth McKinley Christian Hospital (RMCH) in Gallup, McKinley County. Alfredo Montoya, the head of the County’s Emergency Operations Center, said the County is also working to provide cloth masks and face shields.

Jonathan Nez, President of Navajo Nation, is expecting COVID-19 cases to peak sometime in May to mid-May, so it is hoped the beds and PPE will be a timely resource. The Gallup area serves as a medical hub for residents from the Navajo and Zuni reservations so the donation to Rehoboth McKinley Christian Hospital is expected to especially help tribal members hard hit by the pandemic.

“We just appreciate these beds. Our facilities right now are full – both RMCH and IHS (Indian Health Service). This is a blessing. We’d like to say thank you to Rio Arriba,” said William “Bill” Camarota, the Special Projects and Safety Officer for WellSpring Recovery Center Behavioral Health Services, a clinic/division of RMCH. Camarota drove down with a trailer to pick up the beds and equipment to take back to RMCH.

“Rio Arriba County is just so excited that we could help. We are here to help our neighbors in any way that we can,” said County Commission Chair, Leo Jaramillo.

According to the Navajo Department of Health, the Navajo Nation has registered 1,321 cases of COVID-19 with 45 confirmed deaths compared to 11 infections county-wide for Rio Arriba. The infection rate for the Navajo Nation is more than eight times higher the State’s overall infection rates. Native Americans represent 11 percent of the state’s population however they constitute over 38 percent of New Mexico’s cases statewide.

The disproportionate impact of this pandemic on Native Americans and tribal communities is well-documented.  A recent article in The Lancet noted the additional risk factors Native communities face including higher levels of underlying conditions, like heart disease and diabetes, increasing the risks of complications, as well as limited access to health care facilities. Indian Health Service (IHS) provides health care for those living on reservations. The article noted the IHS currently has only 1,257 hospital beds and 36 intensive care units with many people hours away from the nearest IHS facility. (See “COVID-19 exacerbating inequalities in the US” April 18, 2020  FULL TEXT ARTICLE)

Rio Arriba’s Health and Human Services Director Lauren Reichelt reached out to RMCH several weeks ago when the County was donating beds to their local hospital and facilities from other counties in need.

“We got a call from the County a couple of weeks ago. We thought it was so cool that people were reaching out. The residual effect of all of this togetherness and coming together is that there will be a different way of thinking. You’ll see,” said Bill Camarota.

All together, Rio Arriba County has also provided 34 hospital beds to its primary county hospital, Presbyterian in Espanola, and 20 to Taos County for use at Holy Cross Hospital as well as this most recent donation. According to projected needs, both Rio Arrriba and Taos Counties will be covered by the donation. Projections are determined in coordination with the State Department of Health, Federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the County’s Emergency Response Chief, Health and Human Services Director and local hospitals.

Private citizen Ryan Proctor of Albuquerque donated the 3-D printed masks and Steve Cox with Northern New Mexico College printed face shields intended for RMCH. Rio Arriba County has also received anonymous donations of $5,000, $1,000 and materials to the County’s Rosie the Respirators face mask project pulling together volunteer efforts from the County and beyond. These efforts will help with the additional donation of fabric face masks and shields being planned by the County.