By Lauren O’Brien
This version has been updated since printed in the paper to correct an error.
The Oglala Sioux Lakota Nursing Home, located outside of Whiteclay, Neb. is anticipated to open on June 29. The facility is the first nursing home on the Oglala Sioux Tribe reservation.
With about 20 months of work so far, the nursing home management team is preparing to furnish the 51,000 sq. ft. facility toward the end of June. The facility includes: 60 resident rooms, a theater, which functions as a tornado shelter too, a physical therapy center, family rooms and a ceremonial room.
There are 70 inquires for applicants interested in living in the Oglala Sioux Nursing Home. Applicants must be a member of a federally recognized tribe, but whether or not spouses of tribal members are allowed to live in the facility is still uncertain. Another factor to determine residency is the person’s frailty.
“They have to be frail to be in a nursing home,” said Ron Ross, president of Native American Health Management.
Originally, the tribe wanted to put a nursing facility on the reservation in South Dakota, but the state had a moratorium on the number of nursing home beds permitted in the state. The moratorium was enacted in 1988 and ended in 2005.
Since South Dakota’s moratorium prevented the tribe from building a nursing home, they focused on Nebraska. After visiting with the Nebraska legislature, LeRoy Loudon, Gary Ruse, Ron Ross and Mario Gonzalez helped the tribe understand the laws about building a nursing home.
“We chose Whiteclay because we have land here. The tribe owns this, so this is tribal ground,” said Kathy Janis, the Chair of the Oglala Sioux Lakota Nursing Home Board.
Another reason Whiteclay was chosen was to provide Native Americans job opportunities.
“Being a Native American housing facility, we also have the opportunity to provide employment for Native Americans,” said Ross.
The nursing home’s website provides job openings and details about every position. About 200 tribal members applied for approximately 100 available full-time and part-time positions like nurses, cooks, housekeepers, and receptionists.
When Janis started the project in the early 2000’s, she struggled receiving funds from the Indian Health Service since the organization fell under the Human Health Services umbrella. With the HHS allocating funds to programs like diabetes, medicare and medicaid, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services had money to spare.
The two groups collaborated since President Barack Obama signed the Affordable Care Act, also known as ObamaCare on March 23, 2015. Under that act there was a provision for the Indian Health Care Improvement Act. It authorizes programs and services like Medicaid and Medicare as well as mental health programs for Native Americans.
The Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community of Minneapolis, Minnesota, loaned the Oglala Sioux Lakota tribe $13.5 million with the Oglala tribe contributing an additional $3 million. Since the tribe is federally recognized, the loan is reimbursed by the federal government through Medicaid.
Tribal members “want to come home. They had to go somewhere else because we don’t have nursing homes on the reservation," said Janis.
As the facility was constructed, tribes across America traveled to tour the nursing home. From their tours, they took back ideas to their tribal communities to provide them with long-term care.
Beyond the help provided to the residents, the Oglala Sioux Lakota Nursing Home benefitted the surrounding communities of Pine Ridge, Gordon, Rushville, Hay Springs, Chadron and Scottsbluff. The construction workers needed hotels and food since Whiteclay’s businesses do not offer enough space.
The building’s layout provides every resident a private bedroom and access to the nursing home amenities. Beyond that, the building can be expanded to hold more beds as the tribe anticipates 400 members returning home.
As the opening date draws near, the Oglala Sioux Lakota tribe anticipates the return of their friends and families home. Then, they can celebrate birthdays, anniversaries and spiritual events knowing their loved ones are there to witness the moment.