Fri Jun 5th, 2020
Jeremy Wade Shockley
The Southern Ute Drum
Categories: Top Stories
Health and safety of the membership prioritized
The Southern Ute Indian Tribe Incident Management Team (IMT) is working in collaboration with the Southern Ute Indian Tribal Council to make highly informed decisions for the safety and well-being of the tribal membership during the coronavirus pandemic. The IMT meets daily to assess the situation on a local, regional and national level to determine what is in the best interest of the Southern Ute Indian Tribe. The IMT presents their recommendations to the Tribal Council every Tuesday and Friday in accordance with the Resolution passed by Southern Ute Tribal Council in February of 2020.
“We work together really well,” emphasized Chris Mimmack, the IMT’s Deputy Incident Commander. “Our primary focus is the safety, welfare and health of the tribal members, and the safety, welfare and health for the service providers of the three tribal entities — Casino, Permanent Fund and Growth Fund. Those essential workers that are maintaining those core service for the tribal members.”
“We are working closely with San Juan Basin Public Health,” Mimmack said. “The Southern Ute Call Center has been a tremendous asset. There are always people with questions and concerns.”
Since the outbreak first reached Colorado, the Tribe has recorded seven positive cases, among employees of the Southern Ute Indian Tribe. The Tribe has so far recorded zero cases among the membership itself.
“For the Tribe not to have any confirmed cases at this point, with the massive amount of cases in the Navajo Nation. It’s really remarkable,” Mimmack stated. “The Tribe jumped on this on much sooner timeframe than the rest of the country; anticipating this back in February. We started developing the IMT team, we designated a commander for the IMT on Feb. 6, and started meeting at that time. First, we were meeting once a week, by the first week of March, we started meeting daily.”
“We knew, the medical folks knew, we needed to get ahead of this thing as best as we could,” he reiterated. “One of our objectives as the IMT, was that we wanted to be prepared for this.”
IMT Planning Section Chief, Jim Spratlen, helped to structure the Incident Command System (ICS) for the Tribe, a management system designed to enable effective and efficient domestic incident management by integrating a combination of facilities, equipment, personnel, procedures, and communications operating within a common organizational structure. This system was developed after 911, and was created and structured as a result of all the agencies converging after that event, without common language, or structure. The ICS is modeled after wildland fire management, and other natural disasters responses efforts — exemplifying multiple agencies working together, but needing a common language.
“Because this is not a natural event, or natural disaster, it is a little different,” Mimmack explained. “Medical personnel need to take the lead role, [this is] a very unique event and a medical event.”
Margo Yeager is the Tribe’s Incident Commander for the IMT, she leads the daily meetings which begin with IMT General Staff for 9 a.m. updates, where team members get briefed with new data on state, federal and regional outbreaks, which includes neighboring counties and the Navajo Nation to the south. Followed by a daily planning meeting, where the team sets priorities and procedures for the upcoming week, and finally a tactics meeting at the end of each day. This information is presented to Tribal Council by the IMT twice a week in a roundtable presentation, informing leadership of the ever-changing situation — with heavily supported facts. The team members have transitioned to online conferencing, working primarily through WebEx.
“I was appointed by Tribal Council through a resolution to be in this position. I am the Chief Nursing Officer at the SUHC and in this role, I am responsible for Infection Prevention and Control. Since this is a health-related issue the Risk Manager made the suggestion to Tribal Council I be appointed,” explained Yeager. “IMT has the sole responsibility for making decisions regarding COVID-19. However, we work closely with Tribal Council and inform them of any decisions that we would implement.”
“Responding to emergencies of all kinds is a part of risk management. Many of the Tribal staff have completed training to respond to an incident and have stepped into the many roles of an IMT,” she said.
The Southern Ute Tribal Council in collaboration with the Southern Ute Indian Tribe Incident Management Team (IMT) issued the “Stay at Home” Order on Wednesday, March 25, prioritizing the health and safety of the tribal elders, high-risk and immune-compromised members, youth and the entire tribal membership. There
was also a resolution completed and approved by Tribal Council for the implementation of an Incident Management Team in early February.
The COVID-19 Incident organizational structure, puts Margo Yeager, IMT Incident Commander and Don Brockus, Emergency Manager as direct report to the Tribal Council, followed immediately by their deputy staff and countless others who are working to benefit the Tribe and the membership as members of the Tribe’s IMT.
Don Brokus has direct access to resources, and the ability to reach out to other EOCs; or Emergency Operation Centers. He talks to the State EOC, the National EOC — and works directly with FEMA for resources needed by the Tribe, such as Personal Protective Equipment (PPE). His role and responsibility are tied to the federal and state involvement in the Tribe’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I don’t think people understand the responsibility that has been given to this IMT. We answer to the Tribal Council. The Tribal Council, by resolution, gave that authority to IMT,” Mimmack stated. With the clear understanding that the IMT would communicate with them on their decisions, he added.
The next big undertaking for the IMT is mass testing for all tribal members and their households. “It is very important for us to know truthfully where we are at right now. We are hoping that we are less than one percent; we are including members of households to [broaden the] test. This will give us a much better idea; a figure to see what we have done to prevent a major outbreak in our community,” Mimmack stated. “[The testing] is strictly voluntarily. We will notify everybody as to what their test result is – negative or positive.”