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SDSU nursing program receives grant to address Indigenous health disparities

Native American Nursing Education Center NANEC
South Dakota State University Native American Nursing Education Center

The Rita and Alex Hillman Foundation rewarded nursing faculty at South Dakota State University $50,000 to improve health care options and treatment for the Lakota community in Rapid City.

The project, titled “Conducting a Community Needs Assessment to Address American Indian Social Invisibility and Health Inequities,” will work with the Woyatan Lutheran Church and the Wambli Ska Teen Center in Rapid City to develop a program to train and support health workers on how to use culturally responsive treatment techniques for Indigenous patients.

“The long-range goal is to hopefully create a community health worker that is located in what is called the heart of Rapid City, or North Rapid,” said Mary Isaacson, an associate professor for the College of Nursing in Rapid City.”

Woyatan Lutheran Church and the Wambli Ska Teen Center both offer services like kitchen space, tutoring, a pantry with free food to take and dance regalia available to those who live nearby the centers. The Native American Nursing Education Center plans to interview the Indigenous community that uses these centers to find out about the health disparities they face.

Tiana Ruff, a mentor for NANEC, will also serve as a public health nurse liaison for the center and church to help facilitate these discussions.

Bev Warne, a nursing mentor and guest lecturer for NANEC, said the surveys and communication with Indigenous residents would let these people tell their own stories of their experiences with health care, which would help empower a historically underserved demographic.

“That part is very important to get the root needs of that community in North Rapid,” she said, “and the majority of the members there are Native people, and the majority live in poverty.”

Along with researching health quality for the Indigenous community, the program will allow nursing students hands-on experience with the community and engage with them in a meaningful way.

Kathy Labonte, another mentor at NANEC, said students will learn about health concerns in a population from members of that group themselves.

“Whether our students are Native or non-Native, this is an opportunity for them to view the population through a different lens that is going to be so enriching for them in their practice throughout their lifetime,” she said.

Isaacson said that NANEC intends to create a new curriculum called “Being a Good Relative,” which will integrate Lakota values and knowledge of the medicine wheel into nursing lessons.

Warne said she hopes having Native nurses and other health care workers in the area that the community can trust will help make a difference.

“I just have a positive feeling about this whole project, that it’s going to be worthwhile for the future of this community in our city,” she said.

Jordan is a senior English and journalism major at SDSU in Brookings. She is from De Smet, South Dakota. She is based out of the Sioux Falls studio.