If all goes according to plan, the Great Plains Tribal Chairmen’s Health Board will take over administration of Sioux San Hospital on Feb. 17, 2019.
CEO Jerilyn Church said the tentative date has been set as the board continues negotiations with the Indian Health Service (IHS) over the 638 contract, or the Indian Self-Determination and Education Assistance Act.
In April, the Oglala, Cheyenne River and Rosebud Sioux tribes passed resolutions approving the transfer of administration of Sioux San Hospital from IHS to the Great Plains board and authorizing the board to be the hospital’s managing entity.
“We’re still in the negotiation process with IHS in terms of the funding agreement to maintain services,” Church said.
Under the 638 process now underway, the board would contract with IHS to take over the planning and administering of health care at Sioux San, including day-to-day management.
The proposal for a new health-care facility in east Rapid City remains under negotiation as well, but any decision on that matter would likely come months after the February transfer, Church said.
As part of the 638 contract process, Sioux San employees have received documents over the past few weeks requesting them to authorize the release of their personnel file to the Great Plains board, including information like salary, benefits, years of federal service, performance records, disciplinary records and the results of background checks. Drug tests are also required, as is a new background check. Church said IHS gave the health board a deadline of Nov. 16 for the forms to be signed and drug tests completed.
“This is all required by IHS,” said Church, noting that information like salary and benefits would help the health board draft a preliminary budget. “It’s a one-time authorization that allows IHS to release to us their federal record. They (Sioux San employees) don’t have to sign it, but if they want to continue employment, then they have to sign it.”
The records of employee’s work performance are included. Employees with scores below a certain threshold will not be able to transfer to the new administration with their current benefits, Church said. In short, employees’ health-care benefits and years of federal service, which can affect pensions, would not be transferred should they re-apply for and get a new job under the health-board administration.
“The response we’ve gotten from employees has actually been quite positive,” Church said of the information requests and likelihood of administration change. “Community members? Maybe not so much. And maybe not every employee because some folks are not going to qualify.”
Church said about 20 of Sioux San’s 240 employees either failed to qualify or refused to sign the form.
To Charmaine White Face, former Oglala Sioux Tribe treasurer, spokesperson for the Sioux Nation Treaty Council and opponent of the administration change, that’s 20 people too many.
“She said no employees would lose their jobs and already, 20 have,” said White Face, adding that she’s heard from three doctors, two physicians assistants and two nurses who are either leaving Sioux San or retiring early because of the expected administration change.
“They do not want to work for the tribal governments,” she said. “It all goes back to the corruption in tribal government. There is no oversight of tribal government because they are governments. It’s not a rumor or anything. We know this from experience. Some of these people have worked on the reservation and have seen the corruption and how they treat their employees.”
For that reason, White Face and others filed an injunction in the Oglala Sioux tribal court system on Nov. 13 seeking to delay the Feb. 17 administration change.
“That’s based on no interruptions during this whole process,” White Face said of the tentative date for administration change.
Church, who was interviewed a day after the injunction was filed, said she had yet to hear of it. She sounded unfazed, however.
“It’s done,” she said. “The resolutions, by law, the tribes have the authority. People do it all over the country. This is not something that is outrageously radical. It (638 contracts) happens all the time with tremendous success in other areas and success in our area.”
Church offered the Winnebago Tribe of Nebraska and Spirit Lake Tribe of North Dakota as two successful examples.
“We’ve aligned ourselves with programs that are highly successful to look to for support,” she said.
White Face fears corruption will translate to a deterioration of health care for Rapid City’s Native American community. She also worries the tribes are trying to dictate health care to natives who live off-reservation, most of whom have no say in tribal governance and representation.
“The tribes do not have any oversight because they are governments,” White Face said. “Who will hold the tribes accountable?”
But Church says the problems with IHS health-care administration is what caused the attempt at self-governance in the first place.
“Indian Country across the nation has been keenly aware of the problems that are long standing and systemic and there’s a moment here where some of our community members are forgetting that,” said Church, adding that she understands people’s apprehension but believes it’s misplaced.
“There’s nothing to fear here except for the unknown. I get the fear. When you have a community of people that have a history of historical trauma, the kind of reaction of some is a reflection of that.”
Church said that three tribes coming to an agreement was a clear indication that something must change and that they trusted the health board to be a good steward of the funds and people's health care.
“They saw the Great Plains Tribal Chairmen’s Health Board as a strong, fiscally responsible organization,” she said.
Over the past eight years, each financial audit of the board had come back clean, Church said, with the last four audits showing no findings. Fear of corruption running rife was predictable but unfair, Church said.
“That narrative is wrong. It’s inaccurate,” she said. “I find it offensive, quite frankly, when our own people kind of perpetuate that stereotype. Because of that stereotype, we have to hold ourselves to a much higher standard and we do. We hope that pretty soon the conversation will turn from ‘What’s the worst that can happen’ to ‘What’s the best that can happen’ because that’s really what this is all about.”
White Face, though, remains unconvinced.
“We will be subject to historical trauma if the tribes are allowed take over Sioux San,” she said, “because we have already experienced tribal corruption.”
Atop the dark fire escape outside Sol Yoga Collective in downtown Rapid City on Thursday evening, Thane Rose used paper towels to clean the hooves of one of the eight pygmy goats he brought from Old MacDonald's Farm.
"I probably wouldn't do goat yoga," said Rose, dressed in flannel. "I'm too redneck for that. But maybe hot yoga, though."
His friend opened the door and in traipsed the final goat, bleating atop the wooden floor of the yoga studio, the yogis on mats and instructor looking on in delight.
Normally, yoga and livestock in western South Dakota inhabit separate realms. But for the last five weeks at Sol Yoga, the two have become one, as owner Karen Buxcel brought the national "yoga with goats" craze to Rapid City. Yogis are encouraged to pet goats, play with the goats, even — yes — stack goats.
"It helps bring the joy back into yoga," Buxcel said. "Sometimes, we can get so heavy."
Tim Aberhan sat stretching on his mat and looking askance at the ruminants running around. He hasn't done yoga in 10 years, but was convinced to come by his wife, Kim Pehrson. The reason?
"Goats," he said, after a long pause.
Participants paid for the session and rented non-absorbent mats. Instructor Cat Croteau has never worked with goats but, at around 6 p.m. after all eight goats have entered the room, she opened her session.
"Find a place of stillness around you," said Croteau, limbering up. "Notice the smells in the room."
A curious goat trotted before Croteau, bleated and then wandered away.
Goat yoga started as an additive to the mindful practice by a woman who'd recovered from cancer, Buxcel said. The presence of goats, for whatever reason, helped the woman after her bodily trauma and with healing and hope. The practice has since taken off — profiled in The New York Times and Time Magazine — and each of the sessions at Sol Yoga Collective sold out in advance.
Alex Kearns, now working at Mount Rushmore, drove into town Thursday night. She attended college in New Hampshire, where she first learned of goat yoga.
"I never got around to doing it," Kearns said. "So, when I saw it was coming here, I couldn't miss it."
Yoga with goats feels astonishingly like normal yoga, at least for the first 10 minutes. Breathing. Cat-cow poses (participants on all four raising and lowering backs). And the goats just milling around and sometimes getting in the way. The goats were tentative but also a little unimpressed — communicating in curt bleats — at their human companions in spandex leggings lifting their bodies up and down, releasing the stress of the day.
But soon, the goats warmed to the room. During a down dog (think making a triangle), Aberhan looked down to find a black goat has nudged its way into the nape of his neck. One of the kids (human, not goat) reached out to pet a white goat who had migrated close to the mat. And a mom picked up one of the goats (their wide chest cavities are like built-in handles) and placed it atop her amused daughter during a plank pose.
"Keep going," said Croteau, as the yogis balanced on one hand and raised and lowered the other. "Swing like a rag doll. Sway your body. Just look out for your neighbor and don't hit any of the goats."
Sure, problems emerged with the goats. One urinated on Pehrson's mat (quickly cleaned up by an assistant, who moseys around the yogis throughout the session dabbing with paper towels and spraying disinfectant). Some goats, as wont to do, began nibbling on the paper towels. And a few simply roved in a small flock around the room, like wingless pigeons with hooves and horns.
"Move the bottle," cries a child, as participants laugh. "The goat is licking it."
But by the third forward fold, the room was fully alive with laughter. Yogis shot photographs of the goats, now half-listening to Croteau's commands, and placed the goats atop yogis' backs. An odd gesture, sure. But the goats seemed resolute but also indifferent to the attention.
"We'll definitely try to bring them again," said Buxcel, standing at the desk outside the studio, laughter and bleating goat cries echoing off the vintage ceiling. "It just takes a lot of woman power to clean up all the mats afterward."
The lowest, most frightening point of Brandi Snow-Fly’s 15-year methamphetamine addiction wasn’t getting arrested, going to prison or losing custody of her children.
The bottom came when Snow-Fly was in California several years ago, on the back end of a 5-month meth bender during which she was never straight. She had been kicked out of her friend’s home and was living on the streets when she found herself one morning in a truck headed to a rural area with a homeless Mexican meth addict she had befriended and who promised to get them work.
The pair arrived at a home where two men were waiting. Her “friend” and the others tried for several hours to convince Snow-Fly to go inside, but she felt something wasn’t right. She resisted and eventually they all drove to a gas station where Snow-Fly tried to leave but was crowded in a seat between two of the men. During the struggle, she overheard them talk about money that had been paid.
They wouldn’t allow Snow-Fly to get out, so as a final resort she began to scream until passersby noticed, and the men kicked her out of the truck and drove off.
“I think the Mexican guy had sold me to those men,” Snow-Fly recalled. “I do believe they were going to rape and kill me.”
Snow-Fly retold that story recently while sitting on the edge of a bed in her Rapid City apartment, where she now lives with four of her six children. Snow-Fly spent about 30 months in jail and the South Dakota Women’s Prison in Pierre on drug-distribution charges. She was released on parole in January 2017.
So far, Snow-Fly has emerged as a rare success story in the typical cycle of meth addiction, incarceration and relapse. She works full-time at a local Walmart. She has not re-offended and said she is not using drugs or violating her parole. Other than her 5-year-old daughter who lives with her father and grandmother, and her oldest son who lives with his father in Mitchell, Snow-Fly cares for her remaining children ages 7 to 10.
She has entered the process to obtain a Habitat for Humanity home for her and her children.
During a visit to her crowded apartment, some children played video games while her daughter sifted through Christmas ornaments she had received as a gift and did handstands on the bed.
Though at times chaotic, and certainly busy, life for Snow-Fly now is almost inconceivably better than in the past.
Born in Valentine, Nebraska, Snow-Fly had an unsettled childhood. Her parents were alcoholics, and at age 5 she and her siblings were removed from the home and placed in foster care.
For a time, Snow-Fly thrived in a caring environment. She did well in school, enrolled in the Upward Bound pre-college program and in summers during high school lived on the campus of the University of South Dakota to attend a program that prepares students for a career in nursing or health care.
But a dark side loomed. In eighth grade, Snow-Fly got drunk and “it was nothing like I had felt before,” and soon she was drinking heavily and smoking pot.
She showed up drunk to a class at USD and was kicked out of the program. She returned to her foster home, graduated high school and got a job at a gas station, but the work only provided her money with which to buy booze and drugs.
By 21, she had moved to Rapid City and had two DUI charges on her record. Once she moved in with a drug dealer, she became hooked on meth.
She tried a change of scenery by moving to California, but within hours of getting off the bus she was high on meth that was cheaper and stronger than in South Dakota. After five months of being high on meth, becoming homeless and enduring the trauma in the truck, Snow-Fly bottomed out and returned to South Dakota where she had family and friends.
Then, a pattern emerged: get high, run with addicts, become pregnant and give birth, try to balance motherhood and meth use.
Like many addicts, Snow-Fly had periods of sobriety, including a stint working at Shopko where she was soon promoted. But on a day off, she ran into her old crowd and smoked meth. She disappeared for days and gave up her job.
With no income and children to house and feed, Snow-Fly said she faced only grim choices.
“Every day I woke up, it’s like I needed to go get some meth because you just have to have it,” she said. “You need money so it’s either one thing or the other — sell yourself or sell drugs.”
Snow-Fly said she refused to prostitute herself, so she became a meth dealer who was at times moving $4,000 of the drug each day. While selling, her children would stay with friends or babysitters whom Snow-Fly said were also prone to being drunk or high.
She was arrested on possession charges and eventually was caught selling meth to an undercover informant. In January 2015, she was sentenced to eight years in prison for drug distribution.
While serving time, she underwent an intensive meth-treatment program and training in cognition and emotional control (she still keeps her marked-up study manuals within close reach in her apartment). During her incarceration, her children went to live with her brother, who has his own substance-abuse problems, she said.
Upon release, Snow-Fly regained custody of several of her children and attended a re-entry program run by the Woyatan Lutheran Church in Rapid City. She began attending Masses with her children and landed a full-time job.
Snow-Fly, 35, said she is committed to avoiding the triggers and traps that led to her addiction. She said she listens to Scripture and financial-counseling programs, stays away from her old friends, sets healthy boundaries and routines for herself and her children, listens to advice from knowledgeable people around her, and most of all has not given up on herself or her family.
Nothing has come easy. Snow-Fly said she understands her children have been through a lot of instability, and she had to teach them how to be nice to one another in the wake of the trauma they endured. She speaks openly with them of her addiction, crimes and poor choices.
“They’re strong; I don’t know if I could have gone through all that they did,” she said. “They’re at an age where they can still grow out of it and hopefully learn from the things that I did.”
Snow-Fly is confident she can continue on a productive path. She wants to someday own a home, run a business, go back to school and maybe write a book.
“You have to stay busy, stay active, go to church, be with your kids and plan for their needs,” she said. “I feel good, I feel really positive.”
Craig Baltzer knew the decision by the Rushmore Plaza Civic Center Board to pay the Rapid City Rush $73,500 to help offset the hockey team’s financial losses in October wouldn’t be popular in segments of the community.
The payment is part of a previous agreement between the Civic Center and Rush ownership, in which the city entertainment venue has agreed to cover up to $350,000 annually in financial losses over the next three seasons.
In June, Baltzer, the Civic Center’s executive director, said the funds would come from the Civic Center’s operational budget, specifically, profits made from Rush hockey, which Mayor Steve Allender put at more than $16 million over the team’s 10-year run in Rapid City.
On Friday, Baltzer defended the decision to help the Rush after just one month of the 2018-19 season.
“We knew it was going to be controversial, and we understand why. We also knew it was the right business move. We decided to stick with it,” he said.
Baltzer said the Rush, even with lower attendance over the past few seasons, is still a powerful income generator for the city and Civic Center while adding to the quality of life in the area.
“On their worst year ever, they were averaging 2,000 people per game,” he said. “Any event that brings in thousands of people is a good event for the Civic Center.”
He said fans are spending an average of $6 to $8 on concessions per game and having the team here provides an economic benefit beyond the Civic Center.
“There’s a lot of good that comes from the Rush,” he said.
Rushmore Hockey Association President Chris Dietrich said the Rush’s positive influence on the youth hockey program is clear.
Dietrich said dozens of new skaters, boys and girls, have pushed participation in Rushmore Thunder Hockey programs to as high as 400 last season.
Rush players often provide coaching clinics for Thunder teams, which include divisions for youth from age 4, (Mites) and increasing through Squirt, Bantam and Pee Wee up to high-school junior-varsity and varsity club teams.
The strong participation numbers make the Rushmore Hockey Association home ice, the Rushmore ThunderDome south of Rapid City, a busy place on weekends, Dietrich said.
“All you have to do is come out on a Saturday morning and see 100 to 150 sweaty-headed little Mites running around,” he said.
Two former Rush players, skater Konrad Reeder and goaltender Danny Battochio, who both live in the Black Hills after retiring from playing, continue to help the youth program.
Battochio offers weekly goaltending clinics and Reeder serves as a hockey association board member, Dietrich said.
The Rush organization also supports the hockey association financially, through 50-50 drawings and chuck-a-puck intermission entertainment sales.
The Rush team will also wear Rushmore Thunder specialty jerseys for a preseason or early-season game, then provide a portion of the proceeds from a post-game jersey auction to the hockey association.
The biggest contribution, Dietrich said, is from the role models Rush players have become to young skaters who see the pace of the game, how hard the Rush players work in practice and how they conduct themselves on and off the ice.
“These are great kids and they’re really good with our hockey players,” Dietrich said.
The Rush also contribute through the Rapid City Rush Foundation, which has raised more than $700,000 for projects in the community, according to Foundation President Jodi Anderson.
Among the biggest contributions are more than $250,000 to the Rapid City Regional Hospital Foundation through Pink at the Rink and Rush Fights Cancer awareness game promotions; $71,000 for a Light the Night project to provide solar-powered security lights for a portion of the Rapid City bike path, and $50,000 to the Dakota Fields soccer complex.
The Foundation will also sponsor game tickets for youth groups to attend Rush games, Anderson said in an email.
“We sponsor up to 50 tickets a game when needed,” she said.
Attendance listed by the ECHL for eight Rapid City home games this season range from 3,239 for the home opener on Oct. 20 to a low of 1,724 on Nov. 7, a Wednesday night, to 3,991 for last Saturday’s Military Appreciation Night game.
The Rush’s on-ice performance has improved this season with Rapid City tied for third in the ECHL Western Conference Mountain Division standings with a 7-5-1-1 record going into Friday’s game with the Idaho Steelheads in Boise.
In 14 games played before Friday, the Rush have shown the tenacity to bounce back from early adversity. In a game against the Allen Americans on Oct. 27 in Rapid City, the Rush erased a 5-0 Allen lead before losing the game 6-5 in overtime.
On Wednesday in Idaho, Rapid City bounced back from a 2-0 deficit to defeat the Steelheads 3-2 in a shootout.
Baltzer said the Civic Center is banking on the team’s bouncing back off the ice as well.
“It’s an investment, and we’re investing what we’ve earned off the Rush,” he said.