Navajo health director named to Biden’s advisory board on COVID-19

Dr. Jill Jim, the executive director of the Navajo Health Department, was named over the weekend to President-elect Joe Biden’s advisory panel on COVID-19. (Photo courtesy the Navajo Nation Office of the President and Vice President)

WASHINGTON – President-elect Joe Biden has said dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic will be one of the first orders of business for his administration, and the head of the Navajo Health Department will be there to advise him on it.

Biden’s transition team added Dr. Jill Jim over the weekend to the panel of health and policy experts that are being called on to help the incoming administration prepare a “robust and aggressive response to contain the virus.”

Jim, who has served as executive director of the Navajo Department of Health since 2019, has seen the problem up close as the tribe has seen some of the highest COVID-19 caseloads in the country, with 16,427 confirmed cases and 653 deaths as of Sunday.

“I look forward to working with fellow members of the advisory board to help prepare an urgent, robust, and professional response to the global public health crisis, for President-elect Biden to lead with on day one,” Jim said Saturday in a statement released by Biden’s transition team.

Jim, Dr. David Michaels, a former Occupational Safety and Health Administration administrator, and Jane Hopkins, a nurse on Washington State’s COVID-19 task force, join a COVID-19 advisory board that was announced in early November. Other members include former Food and Drug Administration commissioner Dr. David Kessler, former surgeon general Dr. Vivek Murthy and Dr. Marcella Nunez-Smith, a professor of internal medicine at Yale University and a health equity researcher.

As of Monday, there were just under 13.3 million COVID-19 cases and 266,051 deaths in the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In Arizona, there were 326,817 confirmed cases of the disease and 6,639 deaths as of Monday, according to the Arizona Department of Health Services.

“As COVID-19 surges across the country, I need a team advising me and a transition that offers diverse perspectives and viewpoints,” said a statement Saturday from Biden. “Ms. Hopkins, Dr. Jim and Dr. Michaels will strengthen the board’s work and help ensure that our COVID-19 planning will address inequities in health outcomes and the workforce.”

Before joining the Navajo Health Department, Jim was a health care analyst for HealthInsight in Albuquerque, New Mexico, a consultant for Navajo Area Indian Health Service, and an epidemiologist for the Utah Department of Health, according to the office of the Navajo Nation president and vice president.

Tribal community leaders praised Jim’s appointment, saying it will help improve health care for Indigenous individuals and other people of color.

“As a tribal member and epidemiologist, Dr. Jill Jim offers a unique yet valuable approach in addressing the disproportionate impacts of COVID-19 in tribal and rural communities,” Stacy A. Bohlen, CEO of the National Indian Health Board, said in an email Monday.

Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez said that, having seen Jim’s leadership efforts this past year through the community’s local response to COVID-19, he is excited to see what she will do in her new, national position. He said his office has worked closely with the transition team “and we did recommend individuals to be a part of these boards and commissions.”

“We recommended Dr. Jill Jim because of her great work in facilitating the federal partners as well as the local resources in combating COVID-19 here on the Navajo Nation,” Nez said.

He said the Navajo Nation, like other tribal communities, has been hit hard by the pandemic. It imposed strict travel restrictions from March to August, when it was recording the highest numbers of COVID-19 per capita in the U.S., and implemented a three-week lockdown earlier this month to stop the spread.

Nez said he hopes Jim’s involvement on the advisory board gives insight on the health concerns tribes and other communities face.

“People of color have been hit hard because we have a high rate of diabetes, cardiovascular disease,” he said. “It’s not just about Native Americans, Dr. Jill Jim will be giving advice for but I think overall, those communities (of color).”

News Reporter, Washington, D.C.

Olivia Munson of New Jersey is a digital reporter for Cronkite News in Washington, D.C. She has worked for the State Press, Times Media Group and Phoenix Home & Garden.

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