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South Dakota works with tribes on nursing homes

PIERRE, S.D. - South Dakota Gov. Mike Rounds has opened the door that may lessen or even eliminate the moratorium on the development of new nursing homes on the state's reservations.

In an interview with Indian Country Today, the governor said he was aware that families in Indian country had the tradition of being close and that elders should not be housed in homes hundreds of miles away just because the reservations had no facilities.

For example, there are not enough facilities on or near the Pine Ridge Reservation to house the aging population. Most elderly are living with relatives. The Rosebud Sioux Tribe tried to alleviate the problem by purchasing a nursing home in White River, a community on the edge of the reservation that allows for some elderly to live closer to home and family.

Since the 1980s, legislation prohibited the new construction of nursing homes unless it was to replace an existing facility. Recently Rep. Jim Bradford of Pine Ridge introduced legislation that would permit nursing homes to be built.

The proposed bill would allow for nursing homes to be constructed on reservations under certain circumstances; only one new facility may be constructed on a reservation, serve only the local community and be located no nearer than 45 miles to an existing facility.

Any new facility will limited to 50 beds and be subject to licensure of the state in order to participate in the Medicaid program, under Bradford's bill.

The current statewide moratorium will be lifted on June 29, 2005, which is the limit of the bill passed in the 1980s. One of the reasons for the moratorium in the first place was to relieve financial pressure on the Medicaid program.

For many years, tribal leaders have asked that the moratorium be lifted. Many elders are sent across the state or to facilities that are barely accessible to families that are strapped with economic struggles in the first place.

The late state legislator Dick Hagen spent much of his time working to break the moratorium. Bills introduced never made it out of committee and suggestions to the State Tribal Relations Committee ended in discussion but little action by its members.

Gov. Rounds has said he will work with the state's four American Indian legislators on this bill and asked for postponement of the hearing process until he met with the legislators.