Whiteclay nursing home won’t open for another year

By Grant Schulte
Lincoln, Nebraska (AP) October 2012

A nursing home designed to serve Native Americans in the northwest Nebraska town of Whiteclay will not open for at least another year because of a funding delay, project planners said.

The proposed 60-bed facility near South Dakota’s Pine Ridge Indian Reservation was supposed to open last month for members of the Oglala Sioux Tribe. But financial consultant Gary Ruse said the tribe wasn’t able to secure the money it needed until three months ago, when it received about $13 million in loans from the Shakopee Tribe in Minnesota.

“It is started now, and they’re getting ready to pour the footings,” said Ruse, a former bank president based in Gordon. “Originally, it was supposed to be done by now, but now we’re expecting it’ll take at least another year. But it is under way, and progress is being made daily.”

The nursing home was scheduled to open in August for elderly tribe members, some of whom are living in facilities hundreds of miles from their relatives and native reservation. Project planners broke ground on the facility in June 2011.

Ruse said the project, when completed, will create an estimated 70 to 80 jobs and the facility will have room to expand to 80 beds. The nursing home already has drawn interest from about 200 residents scattered throughout several states.

The home will sit on a 1,000-acre patch of tribal ground in Whiteclay, a Nebraska border town frequently criticized for its beer sales to residents who live on the reservation where alcohol is banned. The tribe couldn’t build the facility in South Dakota, where most of the reservation lies, because of a moratorium on new nursing home beds.

Nebraska Sen. LeRoy Louden of Ellsworth said the facility is opening in Nebraska because South Dakota officials insisted they had enough beds to serve the population. But Louden, whose district included Whiteclay until last year, said the South Dakota nursing homes are located at least 100 miles from the desolate reservation.

“You take them 150 or 200 miles from their home, and they never get to see any of their relatives again,” Louden said. The project “should be on its way, it just might be a slow process.”

Louden said Nebraska taxpayers will not shoulder the facility’s service costs for low-income residents. Sixty percent of the funding will come from federal Medicaid dollars, he said, and the federal Indian Health Service will cover the rest.

The cooperation between the tribe and Nebraska is noteworthy because they have been at odds for years over the town’s four beer stores, which sold the equivalent of 4.3 million, 12-ounce cans of beer last year. The town has fewer than a dozen residents, and critics say the beer sales fuel alcoholism on a reservation with one of the nation’s highest alcohol-related mortality rates.

Oglala Sioux Tribe President John Yellow Bird Steele said the facility is expected to take 16 months to build and will serve residents who struggle to care for themselves as they age.

“These elderly residents have called me, wanting me to bring them home, but I had no place to put them,” he said. “Traditionally, we take care of our elderly. But with these days and times, without a home being handicapped accessible, people just can’t. It’s impossible.”