“A new era of tribally-managed health care”: Great Plains Tribal Leaders’ Health Board opens the new Oyate Health Center to patients Monday

RAPID CITY, S.D. – Creating a place that patients recognize, feel safe in and are taken care of like relatives, officials say, is a huge part of the new Oyate Health Center in Rapid City. As units such as primary care and ancillary services get a head start, the clinic facilities officially open to patients on Monday, Feb. 6.

The Great Plains Tribal Leaders’ Health Board (GPTLHB) runs the clinic for the Oglala Sioux Tribe, Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe and the Rosebud Sioux Tribe.

The New Building:

New Oyate Health Center22

The new Oyate Health Center

“It’s a combination of excitement and stress,” Jerilyn Church, president & CEO of GPTLHB, said. “There’s so many little details that need to be in order. When you’re moving into a health facility, machines and equipment need to be calibrated. They’re expensive, so they need to be handled very carefully.”

While the team is still moving into the building, they are still serving our community.

“I’m really proud of how our team has prepared for this move in that there really isn’t going to be much of a break in services. We’re making the move for primary care and the ancillary services tomorrow and radiology is coming in a little bit later. But for the most part, it’s going to be a pretty smooth transition, fingers crossed, into the new facility,” Church said.

With the Oyate Health Center, primary care will be expanded, which will provide specialty care and help patients receive referrals faster.

“We don’t have all of those services fully identified yet, or providers identified, but we have partners in the community that we hope will be joining us for those services that we routinely refer out. So cardiology is one of them, ophthalmology is another,” Church said. “What that will allow our relatives to do is to not have to wait hopefully too long for referrals out somewhere else. They’ll be able to get that specialty care here and the providers that will be providing that care will, I think, gain a better appreciation and connection to our relatives and to our culture, because they’ll be a part of the culture that we’re building here.

The building also puts all the services under one roof. Instead of the business office, diabetes program and dentist being in different buildings across the campus, they will all be in the health center.

Photos of the New Oyate Health Center:

Sioux San Hospital:

“It’s bittersweet. There’s so much history in that old building,” Church said. “I think what the health center symbolizes is a new era of tribally-managed health care. It’s reflective of tribes and embracing sovereignty and taking ownership of our future of health care. So it’s both. We pay homage to our ancestors that were a part of the old facility, and we look forward with a lot of hopefulness for generations to come.”

While the building started as a boarding school, the hospital was first constructed in 1938 to treat native patients with tuberculosis.

Sioux San

Sioux San Hospital

It had been updated and renovated through the years, but still created challenges for providing high-standard care which lead to the need for a new center.

While the health board is responsible for the new facility, the grounds and the older buildings still belong to Indian Health Service, and the current plan is for the old facility to be removed. Indian Health Service is a division within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

“We don’t have any authority over whether or not the building stays or if they go,” Church said. “The contracts, from what I understand, have already been issued by Indian Health Service to have them removed. But we want to make sure that we continue to work with the Indian Health Service to ensure that they keep the community informed of their plans and that we create an opportunity for the the community to be able to respectfully pay homage to those spaces before they come down.”

Improvements in Health Care for Patients:

The health board has been able to develop an operational system that focuses on the patient primarily because they’re the heart of what they do. Officials say that 22% of their patients come from outside of Pennington County.

“Our numbers have increased dramatically, far more than what we anticipated even before moving into the facility. We have more patients than we’ve ever had,” Church said. “Third-party billing is at an all-time high. What that’s reflective of is that we’re getting more and more of our relatives enrolled in sponsoring insurance.”

The other aspect is their customer service where they refer to patients as relatives, even in their native language.

“We do that because we want to recognize that anyone that comes to us for care, we treat as if there are family,” Church said. “We use relative terms to remind us that they are family. When you’re caring for your aunties or your uncles, your little nieces and nephews, there’s another level of endearment that we have for them. We hope that comes across and I think it does.”

That level of endearment is what Church says makes them different from other clinics. Instead of going from one room to another, relatives see the same provider, nurse, pharmacist and driver if needed

“They will have a team of caregivers and support staff that will always be consistent for them,” Church said. “What that does is it makes sure that the pharmacist and the provider are on the same page about that person’s pharmacy needs. The nurse will always be able to answer questions for the provider. Our behavioral health consultant will be onsite, so that if in the process of a medical appointment, it becomes apparent that there’s more needs that are not being addressed, we’ll bring that person right in at that time. So it really is about putting that relative at the center of care and making them feel as though that they have a team that’s surrounding them and caring for them.”

The Building and Indigenous Culture:

Also in the same area of prioritizing the relatives, the building itself has, or will have, a number of items relating back to indigenous culture — hoping to make patients feel more at home and safe. Elements of the region are reflected in the building like the prairie, aspects of the mountains, colors of the Great Plains and the star, that’s commonly seen on many star quilts, are in the rotunda.

“That’s where our spirit comes from and we want spirit to shine through not only this building, but through the work that we do as well,” Church said. “We hope and we think that at this new facility, they’ll feel at home. There’s going to be artwork throughout the facility that reflects our culture, that reflects familiarity and reflects our spirituality. What we are embracing here is wellness, not only from the physical standpoint, but we support and recognize our emotional well-being. Our spiritual well-being is such an important part of our overall wellness. This is a place where their whole being will be recognized and addressed and be a part of their wellness journey.”


With a larger facility also comes more necessary staffing. If they are fully staffed in every position that’s recognized as needed, there would be around 600 employees, which is a significant increase all around.

“It will be a big lift, especially in this climate where health care, recruiting, health care providers and support staff is pretty competitive,” Church said. “I think what will set us apart is not only do we have this brand new beautiful facility, but again, just the type of work environment and work culture that we’re creating here. It’s compassionate care, person-centered, not only for our relatives that we serve, but also recognizing that our staff serves some of the most vulnerable families, some families with some of the highest needs. In order to be fully present and give 110%, we’d like to think that we’re here for our staff, too, and create an environment where they feel supported as well.”

Categories: Local News, South Dakota News