Pine Ridge

Why Pine Ridge

Gundersen Global Partners-Pine Ridge works in collaboration with a host of organizations on the Pine Ridge Reservation of South Dakota to improve the overall health and well being of the Oglala Lakota people and their communities.

Gundersen Health System and Native American leaders in South Dakota selected the Pine Ridge Reservation for the Global Partners partnership because of the vital need for medical and specialty services, educational support and community development initiatives. Current data demonstrates the need for continued assistance:

  • The life expectancy for men is just 48 years; for women it is 52 years.
  • The diabetes rate is eight times greater than the national average.
  • Indian Health Service (IHS), the sole healthcare provider on Pine Ridge, provides less than $2,900 annually in healthcare per Native American. Healthcare expenditures for the average American is more than $7,700 a year.
  • Pine Ridge native Dr. Don Warne, MD, MPH, gave a presentation to Gundersen medical staff describing the complex factors contributing to the health inequalities of American Indians.

Current Projects

  • Behavioral Health Partnerships — Partner with Pine Ridge Reservation communities and organizations to provide culturally appropriate training and tools to address behavioral health issues.
  • CPR Training — Educate participants in how to appropriately perform lifesaving CPR.
  • First Aid Fair — Share information and encourage conversation with Pine Ridge teens about basic first aid. Have students demonstrate knowledge of first aid training.
  • Health for the Generations Camp — Expose Native youth to health professions through hands-on training and job shadowing opportunities during week-long camp in La Crosse.
  • Health Fair — Share information and encourage conversation with Pine Ridge teens about health and nutrition.
  • Nursing Scholarship — To support the education of a student through the Oglala Lakota College school of nursing.
  • Physical Exams — Perform physical exams on students to allow attendance at Head Starts and athletic participation in schools.
  • Specialty Partnerships — Partner with the Indian Health Service (IHS) in providing specialty services to the Lakota people and training to IHS staff.
  • Youth Leadership Camp — Provide training and skill building techniques to Pine Ridge Reservation youth about how to be a leader within their own community.


Trip DatesTrip FocusRoles NeededSign-up Deadline
Oct. 16-21

Women's Health and Family Medicine Clinic

Health Fair (led by School District of La Crosse)

Women's Health and Family Medicine providers; Nurses, MAs, and/or CNAs

June 24, 2016
Nov. 13-18

Family Medicine and Neurology Clinic

Behavioral Health support

Family Practice and Neurology providers; Nurses, MAs and/or CNAs

Behavioral health professionals

June 24, 2016
March 19-24, 2017

Women's Health and Pulmonary Clinic

Women's Health and Family Medicine providers; Nurses, MAs, and/or CNAs

Dec. 2, 2016
April 23-28, 2017

Rheumatology and Dermatology Clinic

First Aid and CPR training in schools (led by school district of La Crosse)

Physical Exams in schools

Rheumatology and Dermatology providers; Nurses, MAs, and/or CNAs

EMTs or those with first aid experience

CPR instructors

Pediatric providers and nurses to conduct youth physicals

Jan. 6, 2017
June 2017 (TBD) Mammography

Mammography technicians

March 10, 2017
July 4-10, 2017

Healing Camp for Children

(in collaboration with Viterbo University Mental Health Counseling program)

Behavioral Health professionals, Counselors or students in mental health and/or counseling fields April 7, 2017
July 2017 (TBD) Wanblee Clinic partnerships Women's Health, Family Medicine, or Specialty providers; Nurses, MAs, and/or CNAs April 7, 2017

First-time volunteers should plan to attend a cultural orientation prior to their trip.

Each trip also requires participation in 2 pre-trip meetings and one post-trip meeting for debriefing. Due to the community-based nature, in-person attendance is preferred for these meetings. Details about these sessions will be sent out via email to the volunteers signed up for each trip.

Once you are signed up for a trip, you will receive an email ~3 months before your trip with paperwork that you need to complete. All volunteers (medical or non-medical) also need to complete some general forms for Global Partners, such as a waiver of liability. Any medical volunteers providing services at an IHS clinic will need to complete an IHS volunteer packet and also get fingerprints. Providers (MD, DO, NP, PA) need to get credentialed through IHS, and a member of the Gundersen credentialing office will work with you to complete that.

Volunteers from a variety of backgrounds are needed to support the partnerships with Pine Ridge. Please complete a Volunteer Form and describe your interest and a member of the Global Partners team will follow up with you to discuss potential opportunities.

Volunteers on a Pine Ridge trip must be able to endure long days (10+ hours) of physical activity, which may include standing, walking, light lifting and sitting. Volunteers must be age 18 or older; minors (14 and older) may be allowed on a volunteer trip if accompanied by a parent or guardian.

The Trip: Each team will determine the specifics of their departure/arrival times, but generally teams leave Sunday at 7am from Gundersen. It is a 10 hour drive, so teams usually stop in Mitchell, SD, for lunch, arriving in Pine Ridge about 5pm. Monday is typically a "cultural orientation day", which begins with a visit to the Oglala Lakota College Cultural Center, and often includes presentations and meetings with our tribal partners. For teams working in the Wanblee Clinic, on Monday they will also get an orientation at the clinic and access to the electronic health record, which is needed to complete patient documentation throughout the week.

Each evening (Monday-Thursday) volunteers will be done between 5 and 7pm, depending on their specific work. Plan to eat later each evening - around 7 or 7:30pm most nights - and spend time debriefing as a team. Also, take advantage of morning or evening downtime to see some of the sites around Pine Ridge: Red Cloud School heritage museum & art gallery, Wounded Knee, Piya Wiconi, the Badlands, Singing Horse Trading Post, etc.

The group will wrap up on Friday by noon, sometimes earlier. Some may choose to drive straight back to La Crosse (arriving in La Crosse around midnight) while others may choose a more leisurely pace and stay overnight in hotel on the way back, arriving back home on Saturday or Sunday.

Cost: The total cost per volunteer to serve on Pine Ridge for a week is $350. This cost covers lodging at the Lakota Prairie Ranch Resort for a double room; if a volunteer requests a single room, this increases the cost by $30/night (to a total trip cost of $500). Lakota Prairie Ranch provides bedding and towels, has wireless internet and a cafe. The team usually also reserves a room with a small kitchenette so that the group can prepare meals family-style rather than eating out each evening, if preferred.

The $350 payment (or $500 if getting a single room) also helps pay for the vehicle rental (which is partially covered by Global Partners), gas expenses, breakfast and lunch food, and supplies to support the team's work. This amount is made payable to the Gundersen Medical Foundation-Global Partners and is considered a charitable contribution since it supports medical volunteer service work. Volunteers may choose to drive separately, which reduces their payment for the trip by $50. Volunteers should plan to bring additional money for eating out on the way to/from Pine Ridge (approximately 3-4 meals), and an optional overnight hotel stay when heading back to La Crosse at the end of the week.

Gundersen employees may apply for a Global Partners grant to help offset the costs of volunteering on Pine Ridge (up to $250).

What to bring: Teams are encouraged to pack layers of clothing as the weather is highly variable, especially in spring and fall! Medical teams should plan to dress work casual and also bring your Gundersen name badge to wear while at the clinic.

Volunteers are welcome to bring a camera for taking pictures; the scenery is breathtaking and the people are beautiful! However, please refrain from taking photos in the clinic unless you have received a patient's permission, as well as that of any staff who may present. It is always a good idea to ask someone's permission prior to taking a photo even in a non-medical setting, too. Please do not take pictures of ceremonial grounds on Pine Ridge.

For food, volunteers should plan to bring snacks and beverages for the drive (be forewarned, sharing happens). Breakfast and lunch meals will be organized by the team lead and are included in your volunteer cost. Dinner details will be organized during your pre-trip orientation.

Medical Issues: Volunteers must be up-to-date on immunizations including DPT and influenza. Hepatitis A & B vaccines are also strongly recommended.

Communication: English is the primary language spoken by most members of the Oglala Sioux Tribe, so no interpreters are needed to provide medical care on Pine Ridge. Some members of the tribe also speak Lakota, which is the language indigenous to the Lakota Sioux.

Time off: This is a volunteer experience for which you will not be paid. You may choose to take PTO or unpaid time off – you need to make arrangements with your manager. Gundersen associate and medical staff may also use CME time (but not CME money) to participate in a Global Partners trip.


The work of Global Partners-Pine Ridge is supported by many local organizations, as well as partners in Pine Rige.

Local Partnerships

  • The School District of La Crosse, Health Science Academy (HSA): initiated a school-to-school relationship with several schools on Pine Ridge Reservation, and send teams of HSA students twice each year to teach a First Aid Fair and Health Fair, and provide other interactive education with middle and high school students
  • The Wisconsin Academy for Rural Medicine (WARM) program: co-organizer (with UW-L) of the Native Students Health for the Generations
  • University of Wisconsin-La Crosse: co-organizer (with the WARM program) of the Native Students Health for the Generations Camp

Pine Ridge Partnerships

  • Indian Health Service (IHS)
  • Oglala Sioux Tribe (OST) Health Administration office 
  • Pine Ridge Reservation Schools
  • Pine Ridge Reservation Head Starts

Interested in learning more about the Pine Ridge partnerships? Contact Global Partners office at (608) 775-9883 or

Love + Medicine

Every day, Gundersen Health System staff deliver great medicine plus a little something extra—we call it Love + Medicine.

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