CHOCTAW — An Indian Health Service critical response team is on hand to work with local medical staff at Choctaw Health Center in the continued battle against COVID-19 on the Reservation.

Tribal Chief Cyrus Ben said the Tribe works closely with IHS year-round and recently extended an official invitation for Nashville Area Director Dr. Beverly Cotton and a team of medical professionals who have worked in COVID hot zones in New York City and Atlanta to come to Mississippi. The team arrived here Tuesday.




“This is to help us battle COVID within our communities,” Tribal Chief Ben said. “The whole world, and all of the greatest minds in healthcare are struggling to grasp the specifics of COVID. Our team has done a great job, but we needed expanded expertise to come in and help us.”

The IHS Critical Response Team at Choctaw Health Center includes Dr. William Lange, emergency and critical care; Bert Istra, critical care nurse; Travis Taylor, critical care nurse and Harold Edouard, respiratory therapist. The CRT will treat patients, expand capacity and train frontline health care professionals on the most current information for the management of COVID patients.

Tribal Chief Ben explained that Choctaw Health Center is not a trauma center so they do not have any intensive care or critical care units. He lauded Neshoba General for assisting critical care patients, as well as hospitals in Meridian and the Jackson-metro area.

“Like the rest of this country and world COVID is a new virus and our Choctaw people have been greatly impacted,” said Choctaw Health Center Interim Director Mary Harrison. “Choctaw Health Center and our Tribal Leaders have taken the necessary steps to minimize physical movement and educate the public on COVID. It is devastating to know we have a high case and mortality rate due to this virus. CHC healthcare team is committed to the response efforts in our Tribal communities. Our partners from Indian Health Service is an extension of support to bring about the best care for those we serve. I am very appreciative to have Dr. Beverly Cotton, her team and now the Critical Response Team to strengthen our organizations capacity and provide additional support to our frontline healthcare worker and to our Choctaw community.”

Chief Ben said it’s more important now than ever for Tribal members to remain vigilant in the battle against COVID.

“The virus can not be identified by an individual or the naked eye,” he explained. “Many times I think people are exposed innocently. We are a tight-knit community. We are a social-natured Tribe.”

Chief Ben added that there are several multi-generational households that may include 5-10 people under one roof so some don’t have the luxury of self-isolation to the degree households with 3-4 people may.

“We can’t stress enough about people taking precautionary measures,” he added. “The exposure of COVID could come from any place.”

As of today, 59 Tribal members had died from COVID-19. Of the 2,313 tests administered, 858 have been positive. The Pearl River community leads with 390 positive cases, followed by Conehatta with 121. There are 29 currently hospitalized and 588 recovered, including Chief Ben, who contracted the virus a couple of months ago.

Tribal members aged 21-30 have the most positive cases with 180. In second are 31-40 year olds with 156 positive cases. There have been 39 positive cases in members aged 0-10.