RAPID CITY – When the Great Plains Tribal Leaders’ Health Board opened the doors to the Oyate Health Center, big promises were made that the community would help shape its healthcare future. The dramatic expansion of the organizations’ behavioral health department is the first step towards fulfilling those promises.
In 2018, the Oyate Health Center conducted a community needs assessment to determine the healthcare wants and needs of the Native American community in Pennington County. The results from the survey were clear, nearly 65% of Tribal Citizens in Rapid City wished to see an increase in behavioral health services.
“The Native American community in Rapid City needed more services related to mental, spiritual, and emotional health for the Native American community in Rapid City has been inadequate for decades. For the Health Board, this was the obvious starting point. Now, 18-months later, we are seeing real improvements that will benefit this community for generations to come,“ said Patty Eagle Bull, Vice-President of Tribal Community Health Programs for the Great Plains Tribal Leaders’ Health Board..
When the Health Board assumed management of the Rapid City Service Unit from the Indian Health Service in 2018, only 3 mental health providers were available to 27,000 Native American patients in Pennington County. Additionally, space to accommodate patients was severely limited. The lack of providers and space made it all nearly impossible for patients to schedule appointments in a timely manner –if at all.
In the last year, the Health Board and the Oyate Health Center have utilized the full power of 638-contracting to acquire more resources, caseworkers, providers, and even a new location to house them. In all, GPTLHB/OHC secured eight grants totaling approximately $7 million to fund the expansion.
“This is a perfect example of what can happen under a 638-contract. In addition to the federal funding allocated to the service unit, tribally-managed healthcare systems have the option to pursue additional outside resources that can be used to improve the health of the people,” said Ecoffey.
Under the Indian Health Service, there is a set amount of federal funds allocated for a service unit. A set portion of this funding is set aside for specific programs like radiology, behavioral health, etc. As a federal agency, IHS does not have the option of pursuing grant funding or other revenue sources, aside from third-party revenue. The decision to “638” the Rapid City Service Unit freed the Health Board to pursue additional funding to expand and improve services.
“The system of care that was in place before the Oyate Health Center simply didn’t have the mechanisms to respond to the community in the way we have. When the Oglala Sioux Tribe and the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe chose to take control of their healthcare, they opened a world of possibilities that we are working hard to explore and implement,” said Ecoffey.
So far, the Health Board has expanded its roster of behavioral health providers to 18 and purchased a building on the North Side of Rapid City to house the team. Today the Oyate Health Center’s behavioral health department occupies the building located at 725 N. LaCrosse Street.
Established in 1986, the GPTLHB represents tribal communities in South Dakota, North Dakota, Nebraska, and Iowa. The organization is overseen by the elected tribal leaders of 17- tribal entities in the area. Through public health practices and the formation of tribal partnerships, it works to improve the health of the American Indian peoples through health support, health care advocacy, and direct-patient care at the Oyate Health Center.