Our health care team has been exceptional as we move on to vaccines

We have reached the beginning of the new year. This new year, unlike so many others, follows a year full of challenge and change. We are thankful 2021 looks to be our year for reemergence, hope and thankfulness.

Throughout 2020, we worked together to care for our relatives, friends and neighbors. The Chickasaw Nation continues to be a tribe that places primary value on the health of its citizens, and all those who live in our communities. The health care professionals in our tribal Department of Health have gone above and beyond the call of duty to fulfill their responsibilities in the midst of an acute public health crisis.

The COVID-19 virus has increased our awareness of the talents, work ethic and flexibility of our entire tribal health care team. Our caregivers have been in the forefront of this fight against the virus. This period has demanded them to be focused, determined and relentless in their efforts. Virtually all the elements of health care have been subject to tectonic shifts. As approaches and strategies change, our health care workers are asked to quickly adapt to new operational structure. We want them to know we recognize what they are doing for all of us.

During this time, Lt. Gov. Chris Anoatubby, tribal Secretary of Health Dr. Charles Grim, and the entire health care team, have initiated shifts in operations to accommodate the changing environment. We credit all our team – our nurses, physicians, technicians, technologists, administrators and support staffers – for answering the call during this period. They have helped save countless lives and have protected those who were vulnerable. They have been amazing.

Of course, we know we have not as yet defeated this stubborn and deadly virus. But there is hope we can turn the tide permanently. We are now receiving Food & Drug Administration-approved vaccines. These vaccines, in scientific testing, have demonstrated an effectiveness level above 90 percent. We are working hard to access this important resource as quickly as possible. Essential health care personnel are receiving the vaccine, and it should soon be widely available.

We will also soon complete construction on two critically important health care facilities in Ada. These facilities are a big part of our focus on controlling and eventually eliminating the virus.

The alternate site care facility on the Ada South Campus will accommodate diagnostic equipment, virus rapid testing and antibody equipment. The facility is being constructed so it may be converted for multiple use as needed. The alternate site care facility can house supplies, inpatient beds, and staff training space.

Additionally, a new emergency operations center in Ada will soon open. This facility is located where the Kmart store once was in south Ada. The center has a very large parking lot and can handle up to 16 lanes of traffic for drive-thru vaccinations. The facility will also house personal protective equipment, and the super low temperature freezers required for the Pfizer vaccine.

It has been personally inspiring to see so many rise to the occasion and put in the extra work required to serve our patients properly during this time. We are all very thankful for their dedication to our Chickasaw health care.

All these efforts, and more, point to a much happier and healthier 2021. We ask you to please remain aware and practice the basics of mask wearing and distancing. We are confident we will prevail in our efforts, and your help is critically important.

My wish, as always, is for good health and many new years ahead for you and your family.