In mid-March, as the Seattle region grappled with a coronavirus outbreak, a community health center caring for the area’s Native American population made a pressing request to county, state and federal health agencies: Please send medical supplies.
What it received almost three weeks later left staff members stunned.
“My team turned ghost white,” said Esther Lucero, chief executive officer of the Seattle Indian Health Board. “We asked for tests, and they sent us a box of body bags.”
The health board’s center — serving about 6,000 people a year in Seattle and King County — still has the package, which is filled with zippered white bags and beige tags that read “attach to toe.”
Lucero said the body bags were a mistaken — yet nonetheless macabre — delivery from a distributor via King County’s Public Health Department.
Abigail Echo-Hawk, the health board’s chief research officer, said she believes that the message it sends, even unintentionally, is resonating in Native American communities across the United States during the pandemic: There is a pressing lack of adequate resources and funding as promised.
“The Navajo Nation is in a crisis with cases, and there are tribes and other Indian organizations across the country that are in similar crises and can use medical supplies and help instead of watching people die,” Echo-Hawk said. “This is a metaphor for what’s happening.”