Navajo doctors struggle to obtain resources to treat community ravaged by COVID-19

The Navajo are suffering the third highest rate of infection after New York and New Jersey. Many lack access to full service health care, electricity and running water.
4:07 | 05/01/20

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Transcript for Navajo doctors struggle to obtain resources to treat community ravaged by COVID-19
Here's ABC's Matt Gutman. Reporter: The doctor has Benjamin practicing emergency medicine from the back of the car. But there are limits to what this team can do. So ems has just showed up because the gentleman is telling the folks here that he's got shortness of breath, asthma. And covid-19 is surging through the navajo community, the peak weeks away. The doctor is the co-founder of the health initiative at ucsf. He's teaming up with locals like the Koch programs. They're doing rounds at this motel in Gallup, New Mexico where the unsheltered and sick can go to get off the street and away from extended families. Mostly the headaches bothering you. Yeah. Any blurry vision? Reporter: Historically, the U.S. Government hasn't helped much, breaking dozens of promises with native-american tribe, and the government has approved $8 billion for travel assistance, but that has to be split among 574 tribes, but receiving the funds is complicated. Sometimes it goes through the federal agencies before it gets to the tribe or the state before it gets to the tribe. We're using that same process and we have to wait. And we have to submit for these fundings. But the need is now. Reporter: It's estimated about 30% of the people who live on the navajo reservation do not have access to running water, which is why they use pumps like this. And that makes the constant hand washing necessary during a covid outbreak that much more since early March, grassroots groups have worked to provide food and water. The navajo and hopi family relief effort, raising over $1 million, setting up this makeshift hand washing station and distributing it around the nation. It's just one fix to address the hygiene issue. Don't wait until people are sick, because the conditions that are making people more sick and more at risk are right out on the street. Reporter: The navajo reservation is larger than west Virginia, but its population of about 300,000 has access to only about 20 icu beds. The Indian health service says they've had to build additional temporary facilities for a model prediction of over 200 patients a day and over a hundred icu patients. This is where Michelle Tom grew up. Also, without running water or power. She's now the only navajo emergency physician at this urgent care clinic in Winslow, Arizona. You're getting people pulling up to this parking lot. They have to be intubated here, even though this is not technically an icu or hospital. It's an urgent care. Reporter: The closest icu facility where she can send patients is at least one hour away by chopper or up to three hours in an ambulance. Of course, it's no longer a hospital. Growing up, Tom says she never saw a medical professional with a face like her own. I never saw a native-american as a nurse or a doctor. Reporter: Wow. Sometimes there's a disconnect when language and cultures are not meeting. And we know that just by studies, and even by experience, you're not going to have the best health care. Reporter: She left her family and moved to an apartment an hour away to try to minimize the risk of infecting the group of people she's trying to save. My job is immensely hard, because I have such a connection to my people and to my land. Our elders, our teachers, our protectors, they hold all of the key elements that we need to have a strong sense of identity.

This transcript has been automatically generated and may not be 100% accurate.

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