Pine Ridge

A great way to stay connected!
Pine Ridge teams blog during their trips. Click here to read current and past blog entries by Global Partners volunteers in South Dakota!

Healers at Wounded Knee Video Series
WXOW News 19 Daybreak anchor Amy DuPont and photographer Kirk Arneson chronicled a group of volunteers from Gundersen Lutheran as they traveled to the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota to help improve the quality of healthcare in one of the poorest areas in the country.

"Healers at Wounded Knee" won a regional Emmy for a News Special at the Midwest Emmy Awards ceremony on September 26, 2011!
Global Partners-Pine Ridge works to improve healthcare, education and public health on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota with a focus on sustainability. In other words, we want our partnerships to make a long-term impact on the community to empower people to meet their own needs. However, our desire to make a long-term impact is balanced with the need to fill short-term gaps in healthcare provision.

Why Pine Ridge?
Gundersen Health System and Native American leaders in South Dakota mutually selected Pine Ridge Reservation as a Global Partners site. Specifically, a group from the Great Plains Tribal Chairman's Health Board (formerly known as the Aberdeen Area) provided Global Partners with an introduction to Pine Ridge leaders and organizations in 2009. Pine Ridge was selected in part because of the health inequalities that exist and the need for medical and specialty services on the reservation, as well as the opportunity to partner with a number of organizations to bring other resources in education and community development. 

IHS is the sole healthcare provider on Pine Ridge, however, due to severe underfunding provides less than $2,700 annually in healthcare services per Native American in the United States. Healthcare expenditures for the average American is more than $6,700 annually. There’s a saying on the reservation, “Don’t get sick after June,” because IHS funding often runs out mid-year. Members of the Oglala Sioux Tribe then have to wait several months to get certain services (such as surgical procedures), if they get them at all. In addition, there are a limited number of specialty providers on Pine Ridge, and some specialties don’t exist at all on the reservation.

This shortage of healthcare resources is especially problematic considering:
- the life expectancy for men on Pine Ridge is 48 years; for women, it is 52 years.
- 3 out of every 4 adults are obese or overweight.
- the diabetes rate is 800% higher than the national average.

Pine Ridge native Dr. Don Warne, MD, MPH, gave a presentation to Gundersen medical staff in September 2011 describing the complex factors contributing to the health inequalities of American Indians. Click here to watch Dr. Warne's 45 minute presentation

Who is involved?
Locally, volunteer medical teams led by Gundersen go to Pine Ride to provide medical services. Other partners include the University of Wisconsin (UW)-La Crosse, Western Technical College, the School District of La Crosse, the Wisconsin Academy for Rural Medicine (WARM), Scenic Rivers Area Health Education Center (AHEC), individuals and other community organizations. Our site partners are instrumental in determining the issues that need attention, and include Oglala Sioux Tribe (OST) representatives, Indian Health Service (IHS), Pine Ridge Reservation schools, and others.

What is Global Partners-Pine Ridge doing?

Healthcare: Since 2009, Global Partners has sent nearly 40 volunteer medical teams to Pine Ridge in collaboration with IHS and the Oglala Sioux Tribe. Initially, many of these teams provided primary care and chronic disease management services at Porcupine Clinic, a small clinic in the community of Porcupine, S.D., and the Improving Patient Care (IPC) clinic at Pine Ridge IHS. In 2013, Global Partners began working more directly with an IHS clinic in the community of Wanblee, S.D., on the far eastern side of the reservation.

At the request of Wanblee Health Center, several volunteer specialty teams provided services in 2013 since specialty services are often not readily available through IHS. Global Partners plans to continue this partnership in 2014; specialties that have been requested include surgery, GI, dental, dermatology, podiatry, rheumatology, orthopaedics and others. These teams will work with IHS staff to review cases, help prioritize patients, and provide direct patient care services. A specific goal for 2014 is to develop continuing medical education and telemedicine connections with the Wanblee clinic as a means of ongoing support and partnership.

Global Partners also sent volunteer medical teams to Pine Ridge in 2013 to provide physical exams in school and Head Starts. Medical teams also provide first aid training in reservation schools and support a health fair, in partnership with the School District of La Crosse Health Science Academy. During several trips, volunteers worked closely with the OST Health Administration office to provide training to Certified Nursing Assistants (CNAs) on topics applicable to the work they do through the tribe's home health program. A volunteer team also provided CPR training and child care classes to community members in fall 2013, and this will be repeated in 2014 at the request of the communities.

Global Partners and the Norma J. Vinger Center for Breast Care at Gundersen Health System collaborated to send Gundersen's mobile mammography unit to Pine Ridge for three years in a row. Services expanded to the Rosebud Reservation in 2012, and in 2013 a total of 265 women from Pine Ridge and Rosebud received free mammograms, clinical breast exams and breast health education! Funding from 2011-2013 was provided by an Avon Foundation for Women Breast Health Outreach Program grant. Plans are underway for a mammography team to once again go in June 2014 to provide these needed services. Because providers volunteer their time, the cost per mammogram is only $85, and the team hopes to raise enough funds to cover 150 mammograms in 2014. While mammography services are available at the IHS facilities, many women who live in the small, rural communities around the reservations lack the transportation needed to make it there for an appointment. The mobile unit brings the service to them, and each woman also receives a free lunch, cancer education and a gift bag!

Finally, behavioral health professionals from Gundersen and Pine Ridge co-organized a "Healing Camp for Kids" in July 2012 for youth who had experienced trauma and grief. Due to the success of the experience, organizers repeated this camp in summer 2013 and are in discussion regarding holding a camp in summer 2014 as well. Global Partners plans to use financial donations to once again support the purchase of needed supplies and materials for the camp, as well as connect behavioral health professionals who would like to volunteer as camp counselors for the week.

Education: The first educational partnership that developed was with the UW-La Crosse Community Health Education program. A faculty member led a group of public health students to Pine Ridge in 2010 to work with the OST Health Administration office to better understand the needs and strengths of the communities. The team was able to interview 30 individuals representing a variety of backgrounds, professions, and communities on the reservation. There continues to be growing interest among UW-La Crosse departments to engage with Pine Ridge organizations and schools in mutually-beneficial ways.

In 2012, the School District of La Crosse Health Science Academy (HSA) established an innovative partnership with several Pine Ridge Reservation schools, including Crazy Horse School in Wanblee, S.D. Students from the HSA now travel twice a year - spring and fall - with the Global Partners medical team. HSA teams plan to continue partnering with reservation schools to allow students to interact with one another, and to bring curriculum and resources to schools which would otherwise not be available. The school-to-school partnership provides a unique opportunity for volunteer medical teams to also work in the schools, by providing school physicals, first aid training and assisting health fairs.

Several Crazy Horse School students also participated in the "Native Students Health Careers Camp", a week-long camp organized by the WARM program and Scenic Rivers AHEC. The second annual camp took place in July 2013 and involved 10 American Indian high school students from Pine Ridge Reservation and Ho-Chunk Nation. The students participated in job shadowing of health professionals and hands-on workshops (suturing, casting, etc.) throughout the week, with a culminating experience of a drunk-driving simulation on the last day. Research has shown that these camps make a significant impact on students across the United States, and Global Partners plans to again support the WARM program and Scenic Rivers AHEC in developing a camp for 2014.

Global Partners established a scholarship in 2012 to support the education of a nursing student enrolled in the Oglala Lakota College (OLC) Nursing Program. Current donations support a $500 scholarship each semester to a nursing student. Global Partners plans to increase fundraising with hopes of expanding support to two $500 scholarships beginning in fall 2014. Many of the nursing students from Pine Ridge are able to work for IHS following graduation, providing a needed service for their own communities.

Community: Past volunteer medical teams have been joined by quilters, beaders and sewers who share their crafting expertise during Global Partners trips, and in turn learn much from native artisans! Donated fabric, sewing machines, beads and other materials have helped make these trips successful, as often quilting supplies are not readily found on the reservation (the nearest fabric store is in Rapid City, 1 1/2 hours away!). While no official quilting trip is planned through Global Partners for 2014, individuals with this type of background are welcome to join an existing trip, space permitting.

In 2012, Global Partners created a partnership with the "Lakota Beginning Farmer/Rancher program" based in Kyle, S.D. The Farmer/Rancher program provides training to students and operates more than 20 community gardens, which supplies the reservation with a bounty of fresh produce (available from a traveling farmer's market and a stationary market in Kyle). Global Partners sent several volunteer teams to work with the Farmer/Rancher program, helping to weed gardens, transplant seedlings, harvest produce, and other projects. No formal gardening teams are planned for 2014, but those with this interest are encouraged to contact us. 

In 2014, Global Partners will continue building relationships with each of the organizations and communities with whom we partner. We actively listen to understand the needs of those we work with, and to learn about their strengths and resources, and identify ways to partner effectively.
Interested in learning more about the Pine Ridge partnerships?
In 2013, there were several informational sessions and cultural orientations offered for anyone interested in learning more about Global Partners-Pine Ridge, or for volunteers signed up for a trip who have not yet been to Pine Ridge.

Informational sessions and cultural orientations are in the process of being scheduled for 2014, and new dates will be posted to this website soon.

Also, the Global Partners-Pine Ridge volunteer team "debriefs" each month on the Tuesday following their trip, from 4:45-5:45 p.m. in the Gundersen Hospital Board Room (off of the cafeteria). The purpose of this meeting is to allow the team to share about their month's experiences (successes, challenges, learnings, etc.) and provide an orientation to the next team heading to Pine Ridge (from 5:45-6:30pm). However, anyone interested in learning about the volunteer opportunities at Pine Ridge - GHS employees, friends, community members, etc. - is welcome to attend these meetings as well.

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