Benewah Medical and Wellness Center celebrates 20 years

Photo ID: (large number of photos so placed below the story)

PLUMMER, Idaho – “We couldn’t have done it without our neighbors, the people who lived here in Plummer, Tensed, Desmet and on the lake, the non-Indian people who had to travel the same distance we did,” Ernie Stensgar recalled in talking about the health clinic that was established in Plummer in 1990.

“We came together because we needed each other. We printed a memorandum of understanding with the city of Plummer and were able to get state grants and other funding packages open to us. I think we were the first tribe in the United States to open our doors to Indians and non-Indians. Across the country, Coeur d’Alene has become a model for these clinics and people are coming from all over to see how we did it.”

The 20th anniversary of that health clinic was just celebrated with a big anniversary party featuring speakers, the introduction of many who have been involved over the years, tours of the facility, dancing exhibition by the Shooting Star Dancers, free T-shirts to all in attendance with the logo of the Benewah Medical and Wellness Center [www .bmcwc.com /] on them, and a meal for everyone. Executive Director Ginger Carpenter served as emcee. A white canvas cover shielded the speakers and elders and a large white tipi stood adjacent where young dancers prepared.

Tribal Chairman Chief James Allan was one of those speakers. He recounted what it was like before 1990. “We had a small health clinic on the hill in a trailer house. I remember going there as a kid. It’s amazing what we’ve done in 20 years and I’m grateful to that tribal council for having the vision. You’ve all read about the present health care bill. Twenty years ago we were way ahead of the game, way ahead of the curve. We had a community health care center here 20 years ago.”

Vice Chairman Ernie Stensgar went farther back in history. He told of the executive order establishing the Coeur d’Alene Indian Reservation and how, “They would provide health care for us as long as the grass grows. … set aside forever and no white man would ever cross those borders.” Obviously those promises by the U.S. government never came to pass.

The health clinic was soon too small; it had a staff of just eight people. “So we decided to advance and went to Phase 2,” Stensgar said. Dental space, office space, administrative space and examining space were all needed so an additional 217,000 square feet were added.

“Then we started doing preventive care and the concept of a wellness center was thought up and we decided to go after a wellness center. That was Phase 3.” The wellness center opened in 1998. It added 343,000 square feet at a cost of $5 million. “We look at our cardiac patients, people who need limbs and extra care, plus a full-sized gym, a pool, things we didn’t think we’d ever see happen here. Many people are taking advantage of it and that’s wonderful.

“We’re not finished yet. We have a tribal council that’s carrying out the vision of past leaders to provide the care we need in the community and we want good quality health care. We want a state-of-the-art facility and we’re going to get it. So we’re looking forward to Phase 4.” The plan is for state-of-the-art care for diabetes and other things and it’s in the foreseeable future. Conceptual drawings have already been drawn up.

Matt Stensgar, Ernie’s son, is now chairman of the health board. “Today is an exciting day; 20 years, that’s awesome! It’s almost like a family reunion looking at the crowd, seeing old bosses and friends. It’s a wonderful day and an honor to be here.” Matt remembered the board members who have passed and introduced all board members, past and present, which were in the crowd of about 400 people. They all received gifts as a show of appreciation.

From that beginning in 1990 with eight employees it has now grown to a staff of 112; 26 of them have been on staff for more than 10 years.

The Shooting Star Dancers, a group of young people ranging in age from 18 down to 1, entertained the crowd when the speeches were concluded. This group travels throughout the Northwest for different functions. The youngest member had only started walking two months before and readily shared the spotlight with the older dancers. The celebration concluded with a meal eaten at tables in the park under blue skies.

Photo identification:

A – A park was just created prior to the anniversary near the Benewah Medical and Wellness Center and a tipi erected for this event.

B – A tribal drum group provided music prior to the speeches.

C – All current employees of the Benewah Medical and Wellness Center wore white shirts with the center’s insignia.

D – Blue shirts with the Benewah Medical and Wellness Center insignia were given to all those in attendance.

E – Pictured, from left, are speakers including Plummer Mayor Jim Clark, Coeur d’Alene Vice Chairman Ernie Stensgar, Coeur d’Alene Tribal Chairman Chief James Allan, and Matt Stensgar, chairman of the Health Board.

F – Tribal veterans presented the colors.

G – Coeur d’Alene Tribal Chairman Chief James Allan spoke, reminiscing about medical care before 1990 and also introduced notables in the crowd.

H – Coeur d’Alene Vice Chairman Ernie Stensgar told of the history leading up to this day and plans for the future. Elder Felix Aripa sat behind after opening the meeting with a prayer.

I – A crowd of about 400 came to enjoy the day and the activities. The Benewah Medical and Wellness Center is seen behind.

J – Matt Stensgar, chairman of the Health Board, introduced board members, past and present, saying “It’s almost like a family reunion.”

K – The local youth group known as the Shooting Star Dancers performed after the formal ceremony.

L – Sierra Haynes is one of the Shooting Star Dancers.

M – A great meal was provided to everyone with tables throughout the park.

N – About 400 people were served; the Benewah Medical and Wellness Center can be seen in the background.

O – Father Connolly and Connie Skanen enjoyed the meal together.

P – The Benewah Medical and Wellness Center staff in white T-shirts, and the youth staff in yellow, were part of the crowd during the meal.

Q – The Benewah Medical/Wellness Center

R – The Benewah Medical/Wellness Center