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Long wait over as nursing home in Whiteclay opens next week

Long wait over as nursing home in Whiteclay opens next week

Facility to provide 75 jobs near Pine Ridge Reservation, known for poverty and unemployment

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LINCOLN — A long-delayed nursing home is finally going to open in the notorious border village of Whiteclay, in northwest Nebraska.

A traditional Lakota blessing was held Thursday at the Oglala Sioux Lakota Nursing Home, which will officially open for residents next week.

The $16 million, 60-bed facility was first envisioned two decades ago, but has faced several bureaucratic hurdles and delays in construction. Ground was broken on the facility in 2012, but the building was not pronounced completed until late last month.

When fully operational, it will provide 75 full and part-time jobs in an area known for unemployment and high poverty.

The area is also known for alcohol-related problems associated with four liquor stores in Whiteclay, an unincorporated community of about 14 residents. The four stores sell the equivalent of more than 3 million cans of beer a year, mostly to residents of the officially dry Pine Ridge Indian Reservation just across the South Dakota border.

Previously, the closest Native American nursing home was several miles away.

"It's going to be a wonderful thing for Native American elders and their families," said Gary Ruse, an economic development consultant for the Oglala Sioux Tribe.

The jobs provided by facility will be "huge," Ruse said.

Unemployment on the Pine Ridge Reservation is estimated to be higher than 80 percent, and Oglala Lakota County, home to the reservation, is regularly ranked as among the poorest counties in the U.S. The tribal college in Pine Ridge has a nursing program, and the nursing home is arranging for training of nursing assistants.

Tribal officials met with Gov. Pete Ricketts at the State Capitol on Wednesday to iron out concerns about law enforcement for the home, which sits on tribal land in Nebraska.

Ruse said an agreement with Nebraska may be necessary to allow tribal police to handle any issues at the nursing home, because it is outside the reservation boundaries. He said he did not anticipate problems from the street people of Whiteclay.

The brick nursing home will have four fireplaces, a playroom for visiting kids, and sun rooms for residents. It was built so that 20 more beds could be added.

The facility will be managed by a Lincoln-based company run by Ron Ross, a former Nebraska State Treasurer and former Health and Human Services director. His family has experience managing nursing homes.

Contact the writer: 402-473-9584, paul.hammel@owh.com

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