Health on the Plains: Episode 4, The Prairie Band Potawatomi Nation’s Health Priorities with Tribal Council Chairman Zeke Rupnick

38 Min Read

Dec 05, 2023


Wyatt J. Beckman, M.P.H., C.H.E.S.
Photo of Wyatt Beckman and Prairie Band Potawatomi Nation’s Tribal Council Chairman Zeke Rupnick


On Episode 4, host Wyatt Beckman takes listeners to the Prairie Band Potawatomi Nation, in northeast Kansas. He visits with Tribal Council Chairman Joseph “Zeke” Rupnick, who shares the importance of honoring the Nation’s past while paving a way to towards improved health for its members now and for the future. Chairman Rupnick shares how the Nation addressed the COVID-19 pandemic and reflects on the challenges and opportunities for bridging the gap between health needs and access to care in the community. We also get a look at Prairie Band Potawatomi Nation’s expanded health centers that are focused both on medical and behavioral health. Lastly, Chairman Rupnick and Wyatt discuss the interconnectedness of health care, economic development and community wellbeing, highlighting the need for innovative approaches and creativity in rural settings operating on limited resources.

Episode Highlights: 

  • 4:06 – 8:53: Chairman Rupnick gives the history of the Prairie Band Potawatomi Nation and how the Nation settled on the lands their Nation currently resides in today. Chairman Rupnick elaborates on how the Nation is governed and the role of the Tribal Council, as well as how decisions are informed by community members.
  • 9:27 – 13:20: Wyatt and Chairman Rupnick discuss acknowledging and honoring the past and cultural traditions in the present and how that is infused in innovative efforts currently being undertaken by the Nation.
  • 13:55 – 22:54: Wyatt and Chairman Rupnick discuss lessons learned from the COVID-19 pandemic, emphasizing the importance of leading by example and taking proactive measures to keep communities safe.
  • 24:06 – 28:59: Chairman Rupnick provides the rationale for the Tribal Council’s investment in the Behavioral Health Center in 2018 and the expanded services to address mental health needs of members, including adolescent mental health.
  • 29:29 – 35:51: Chairman Rupnick discusses the infusion of spiritual and cultural tradition into mental health services and the Behavioral Health Center’s philosophy prioritizes reconnecting clients with community culture as an essential step to recovery.
  • 36:32 – 40:38: Wyatt and Chairman Rupnick reflect on the innovative efforts the Nation hopes to accomplish for a more sustainable future, including reducing energy costs using solar and geothermal energy to power health care facilities and leveraging broadband expansion to grow access to telehealth services.
  • 40:38 – 44:36: Chairman Rupnick and Wyatt discuss the connections between the expansion and sustainability of health care services and the broader economic development of the Nation.

Full Transcript

Voice over 0:00

This is Health on the Plains, a podcast about rural communities, rural life and the many factors influencing the health and well being of rural Kansas. Health on the Plains is a podcast from the Kansas Health Institute, a nonprofit, nonpartisan educational organization, committed to informing policy and improving health in Kansas, through honest nuanced conversations with leaders and doers from a variety of backgrounds. The Health on the Plains podcast offers unique insights into rural health challenges in Kansas and shines a light on the people and organizations working to make their communities healthier, more vibrant places to call home.

Wyatt Beckman 0:42

Welcome back to another episode of Health on the Plains. We just wrapped up a great conversation. We’re here on the tribal lands of the Prairie Band Potawatomi Nation. We just talked to Zeke Rupnick who is the chairman of the Tribal Council. We talked a lot about the Nation’s efforts to expand access to care, behavioral health services, they expanded a new facility, talked about how they responded to COVID-19 and made the vaccine available and through it all, a lot of really great lessons about how you balance honoring and recognizing the history and what you’ve learned from those that have come before you and how you balance that with being innovative and building towards towards the future. It’s a great conversation, and I hope you enjoy.

Well, thanks for joining us on Health on the Plains. I’m your host Wyatt Beckman. Today we are on the lands of the Prairie Band Potawatomi Nation near Mayetta, Kansas in the northeast part of the state. Today our guest is Zeke Rupnick, and he is chairman of the Prairie Band Potawatomi Nation. His current term began in 2022 and runs to 2026. But this is his second term. He also served from beginning in 2018. Zeke is a veteran, he served a dozen years in the U.S. Army. He also has direct experience within health care, having worked 13 years on the data management and the business side data analytics at the VA eastern Kansas health care system. On the education side, he has a master’s degree, an MBA in business administration from Baker University. And finally, Zeke has provided his wisdom and insight through different presentations and speaking engagements. Most recently, very recently, he was a guest speaker for the Tribal Sovereignty Speaker Series hosted by the University of Kansas. We’re really excited to be here with you Zeke. Thanks for, Thanks for having us.

Chairman Rupnick 2:53

Well, thank you for coming here.

Wyatt Beckman 2:54

So the Prairie Band Potawatomi Nation is one of four federally recognized tribes in the state of Kansas, all four are up here in the rural northeast part of the state. The others are the Iowa Tribe of Kansas and Nebraska, around Whitecloud, the Kickapoo Tribe in Kansas, just west of Horton, the Sac and Fox Nation of Missouri, in Kansas and Nebraska, near Reserve Kansas, up on the border. And then the Prairie Band Potawatomi Nation. And we’re going to talk a lot today about the ways you all have expanded access to care, the behavioral health center and your expanded health clinic. But before we dive into some of those, some of those successes and maybe some of the challenges behind the scenes, for those of us that are less familiar, can you tell us a little bit about the Prairie Band Potawatomi Nation and about your role as chairman of the Tribal Council, we’re here in the Tribal Council meeting room and you usually sit right here. So tell us a little bit about your role on the council and and about the Nation as a whole.

Chairman Rupnick 4:06

Well, we’re originally from the Great Lakes area. And through a series of treaties, or more specifically, the treaty of Prairie du Chien that was signed in 1829. We ceded 5 million acres of land to the United States. That treaty was followed by the Treaty of Chicago signed in 1832, where that one further removed and further ceded a lot of land to the United States. Right after that, President Jackson signed into law, the Indian Removal Act, which was to force all Indians west of the Mississippi into new lands. We were caught up into that. There are a lot of folks that were in Illinois that wanted us to remain there. But we were forced to move and we were forced at gunpoint. And we eventually made our way to Council Bluffs, Iowa, that was supposed to be our original reservation. Some of the tribal leaders at that time didn’t particularly care for the land, we were kind of too close to some of our enemies that we had. And so our scouts came down here into this area that was originally Kaw land and they said, “Well, this is an area that we could live in,” and we signed a treaty in 1846, with the money that we received from ceding the Council Bluffs land, and we purchased, and I say, purchased, a 30 by 30 square mile reservation in Kansas. And today, we only live on 11 by 11 square mile reservation. So through different treaties and government actions, our reservation was reduced from a 30 by 30, square mile to an 11 by 11, and that’s where we’re at today. So part of my job and responsibility, of course, as the chairman for Prairie Band Potawatomi, is to enhance our tribal sovereignty, making sure that, you know, our laws are that we have in place for our tribal members, that we’re doing everything that we can to enhance our reservation, our environment, so that we have something to pass on to our kids, our grandkids and those yet to come. Because right now, really, we’re just borrowing this land this time. And we’re hoping that we leave it a lot better than the way that we found it.

Wyatt Beckman 6:54

Now what what a beautiful way to think of, of our time and how we can be be intentional about leaving it better for the next generations. And I think that, that idea in, in a lot of rural communities, where maybe they’re on fourth, fifth, sixth generation, that’s really something that I think resonates with with rural communities of thinking about how the kids and the grandkids that are going to be here, how can we make this community this place, this land, better. And one of the pieces of that is, is making it a healthier place to live, and be and that’s something we’re gonna we’re gonna dive into it with some of the work you’ve done with the health center, the behavioral health center and some of the the work on COVID-19. So you’re chairman of the Tribal Council, can you can you tell me a little bit about what the Tribal Council’s role is for the for the Nation?

Chairman Rupnick 7:53

Tribal Council’s role is the governance of the Nation. So our system of government, the Tribal Council enacts all the laws. Ultimately, it’s the general membership that is overall in charge or sets the direction for Tribal Council. One of the things that we had done since we started was put in place a new strategic plan, with the input from younger folks and some of our elders to say, what areas should we be focusing on so that when it comes to making decisions on laws, repurchasing land or any other economic developments, that that fits in line with our strategic plan overall for the Nation.

Wyatt Beckman 8:42

So you’re being – the Tribal Council is helping lead those decisions, but you’re being really intentional about hearing from from the whole, the whole community, the whole member, all the members?

Chairman Rupnick 8:53

Absolutely, I mean, you know, we are a pretty solid community, where everybody will express their opinions and ideas freely. And you know, being able to take those ideas and move them into action is our job. And then once we get that, and we decide and we go through our due diligence of making sure that it’s feasible, that it’s cost effective that we have the space, then we can start formulating a plan to move forward.

Wyatt Beckman 9:27

Absolutely. Well, thanks for that. That background. That’s, that’s really helpful, because as we think about some of the decisions that you all made, and the thought that went into some of the the growth of health care access, it’s helpful context to know how you all are approaching making those decisions. So, as I was preparing for our conversation, I was spending some time looking at the Nation’s website, and even, I even heard it as we started as you introduced yourself or introduced the Nation and some of the history, it struck me that you all are holding two things, two important things at the same time that that seemed like their in tension, but you’re able to do it well. On the one hand, there’s clearly an appreciation for, an acknowledgement of the history of the tribe, of the community, of the Nation, and all those that came before you. And honoring those. There’s community events, there’s educational things with the schools to really keep that history and the culture and that alive. And at the same time, there’s a lot of innovation. And you’re you’re building new facilities, you’re expanding facilities, you’re trying new economic development opportunities, you’re exploring different approaches to grow a business. So those two things kind of seem like they couldn’t be in tension, and yet, you’re able to do both. And when I think about a lot of rural communities, I think that tension can feel really pronounced because a lot small, small towns – that the town I’m from is 1,500 people – you know, we care about and want to keep the history of the school and our teams and of the people that helped develop the the bank building that’s downtown. But at the same time, we have to be forward looking, because the world keeps changing. So how do you how do you hold those two things at the same time?

Chairman Rupnick 11:40

Well, in our Constitution, our Constitution kind of outlines some areas that we should be focusing on. One of it is acknowledging our veterans. Potawatomi people have fought in every war this nation has ever been in, including today where we still have a lot of members serving. So that is one area that we’re always focused on making sure that we take care of our veterans, and acknowledging their sacrifice, because without that, we wouldn’t be here today. The other one is, is making sure that we acknowledge our elders, that’s where a lot of the information, the cultural knowledge that has been passed down to us, lives. They have that and we want to make sure that we get that knowledge and that we share it with our youth to become productive people in our society. And of course, then looking out after the youth too, we want to make sure that we have activities and different venues for them to take part in to be a productive person. It’s kind of a balancing act. Absolutely. But those are all things that kind of go through your mind, especially when people bring stuff to the Council. How does that affect our veterans? Does it affect our veterans? How does that affect our elders? And does that affect our youth? And can we make a decision based on that and does it fit into our strategic plan?

Wyatt Beckman 13:21

Yeah, and with with those, as you mentioned, have a strategic plan that you’ve gotten input in here that guides the direction for the the Nation, but with those three populations, think about you’ve got the youth that are sort of thinking about the future, you’ve got the elders that have a lot of the experience, you’ve got those that have absolutely sacrificed and with those three populations in mind, what a way to sort of have a broad view of both where you came from, where you are, and where you’re going all at the same time. That’s a really great way to to pull all those together. I’m going to take us back to a time that was really challenging. The COVID-19 pandemic, we all know, was, was really difficult. It was so many tragedies. You all did a lot of work, and rightfully had some recognition for the efforts you made to make the vaccine available and the ways that you made it accessible here in this rural corner of northeast Kansas. And rightfully so, got a lot of recognition for that, but a piece in in your response to COVID-19 that that I think was really important, but was maybe a little hidden, that I that I want to want to talk about is is how you communicated with with your, with your members and with the Nation. When those early days, those really uncertain days in early 2020 when we were all trying to figure out what to do, I worked at the the Prairie Band Potawatomi news, your quarterly news, and you addressed all the members directly. And you said this is this is what we know, this is what we’re going to do, this is why we need to do it. And every quarterly news sentence, you’ve signed off, telling folks to take care of themselves to to be mindful of the the efforts that need to be done to keep everyone safe. And it just struck me as a really important piece to be that that consistent voice in the response, and to be clear, but I’d love to hear how how you thought, when you think about the challenges of responding to a pandemic, what, what role did that play in how you all were able to have some of the successes you did with with vaccines and your response?

Chairman Rupnick 15:58

You’re you’re absolutely right, that was a scary time. And one of the things that was constantly running through our minds was how are we going to protect the citizens of this Nation. And I know that there were some tribal nations that actually closed off their reservation, and they barred anybody from entering. We thought about that. And, you know, we had a long debate about whether we should close off the reservation just to keep our population safe. I think if we look back at history, one of the things that really did a lot of damage to Indian people was smallpox, and that was constantly going through our mind to because we didn’t know who had it, you know, where it was at, what the incubation period was for any of this stuff, we have to figure out what we’re going to have to do to keep our community safe. Once they started going through the shutdown process, we looked at and talked with our casino personnel over there, and said, “What can we do so that we don’t have to have members driving in buying toilet paper,” when we have no idea, you know, who’s infected and what’s going on. So we actually set up a commissary out of our casino, that members could call in, utilizing the vendors that were already in place that supplied the casino, and allowed our members to buy that at cost. So that they didn’t have to go to town for that, all they had to do was fill out a piece of paper, the employees that were still employed at the casino would fill out their shopping list, they would go in there, they would pick everything up, the members never had to leave the car, and then they could go ahead on and put it in their back of their car, and then they could go home. That was just one example. Once we started looking at the availability of the vaccine, we knew and and it’s, you know, no hit on anybody. But we felt that it was better to go through IHS, as opposed to the state. So they gave us two options. You can either go through the state get your vaccines, or you can go through Indian Health Services. We chose Indian Health Services that way the federal government, fulfilling their trust responsibility to tribes, could directly give us the materials needed. So when we received our first batch, I think that was in January, sometime. I can’t remember exactly when. Very small, very limited. And that was supposed to go to the health care, folks. They had a lot of fear, too, because there was a lot of I don’t know, just the disinformation, I guess over what the vaccine was, how it was supposed to work, what were some of the effects that it may have on you. And because of that, I said, “Well, I will go ahead on and be the first one.” That way, if something happens, everybody will see me I will do it. And you know, if if it’s all safe, then I encourage everybody to get it in and to be safe to protect themselves and their family. So I did you know and I received a little blowback from that, because you know, some of them were like, well, that was supposed to go to the health care. But if you’re trying to build trust in a system, then you have to set the example and of course, you know, like you said I was I was in the military, 13 years, you got to lead by example. And so some of that, as as a leader of the Nation or any other government organization or anything like that. That’s where I think we’re lacking in a lot of different areas as folks are not leading by example, let’s let’s put ourselves out there. Let’s make the unpopular decision. And and let’s build that trust. After that, a lot of the health care employees did receive the vaccination, they did start getting that. And then I encouraged all our other members, the ones that were vulnerable, that had immunocompromised diseases, things like that, get in there and get vaccinated. And then we started receiving a whole flood of vaccinations from the community. We came into Tribal Council, we kind of discussed this, because a lot of our members were still interacting with folks outside of the reservation, we came to the decision to say, let’s make sure everybody that wants that can have access to it. Because in the long run, that’s going to help our members out as well. And, you know, that was about the time when everything kind of started opening up, some of the stores were being stocked people were going to the stores. So anybody in the surrounding area, if they wanted to get a vac- a shot, they could come to our clinic and receive a vaccination. That was, you know, to the benefit of council, because they’re the ones that really pushed that.

Wyatt Beckman 21:36

Yeah. And it was a recognition that infectious diseases don’t don’t stay. They don’t they don’t stop at borders and people that crossing borders. And that makes makes a lot sense. And so you’ve partnered with some of the neighboring folks to make that accessible to the whole region, which is really impressive. I, I started that question, pointing out how you communicate it effectively. But you rightfully pointed out how you not only communicated, but you acted. It was it was it was a lead by example, as you said, and and especially in in our smaller communities, where you probably know, like, a lot of the members, if not all of them, and they can find you and talk to you directly. And I just think of the impact that leading by example can have in a tight knit community, as you said, a smaller community can be even more profound by you’re not only saying this is this is what we think is a good decision. But you’re you’re showing it and you’re doing it yourself. And thanks for going back in time to a really challenging time and sharing some of those lessons.

Chairman Rupnick 22:55

Yeah. I wouldn’t want to do it again. And and that was one of the things that I still kind of bring up all the time, the virus is still with us. We don’t know how it’s going to morph or what it’s going to do. If boosters are available, I encourage everyone to take one, you know when and I continue down that path. I think in our last tribal, general council meeting, I said, you know, it’s kind of encouraging to see that some folks still wear masks when they’re out and about and we should continue to do that. Whether you know some folks say they’re effective or not. Anything that we do to help us out, help ourselves out, help our families out, we should be doing that and making sure that we keep our families and and everyone that we love safe.

Wyatt Beckman 23:52

And something you you said that was intentional. And part of that that I imagine is important for for any future efforts. You were building trust, building trust in in you as a leader of the of the Tribal Council, trust in the the folks that are administering the the vaccination, trust in the vaccination itself and building that trust and being really intentional as it upports future work later i would imagine. So now I want to want to talk about some of the work that you all have done to address something that’s a really common challenge in our rural communities and that’s access to care. I grew up in a town where the closest dentist was a 30 minute drive one way or 30 miles, 30 minutes and that was pretty common and it was actually closer than than it probably would be now and we know that in general, access to care, folks in rural communities often have fewer specialists available, have longer drives. And so when I, when I started the read and see and hear about some of the work that you all have done to expand your clinic and build the behavioral health clinic, I was really impressed. And so I want to start, we’re gonna go back to November of 2018. That’s when the Prairie Band Potawatomi Nation officially opened your behavioral health facility. And you were at the ribbon cutting event, you got to cut the ribbon. And in doing so you became the first tribe in Kansas to build a facility solely dedicated to mental and behavioral health services, which I think is an amazing accomplishment. But the Nation had been providing behavioral health services long before that, it wasn’t the first time but this this was a, this was a significant investment, you’re building a whole facility, or you’re committing a lot of resources to that. Unfortunately, you know, the health services in in our, a lot of our rural communities, they don’t have that, that facility. That’s, that’s there. But you all, you all made that commitment. And it’s been five years since it’s opened. So I’m sure there’s been some some growth and some, some change. But tell me about that commitment. And that investment back in 2018, and how the Behavioral Health Center continues to evolve to meet the behavioral health needs of your members.

Chairman Rupnick 26:45

I wish I could take credit for that. I was just at the ribbon cutting. So that was my first really official duty as chairperson. But it was the past Tribal Councils that made that decision. And you are correct, we’ve been offering different behavioral health treatments, many years before, we just had to have a dedicated building to be able to provide that, and hopefully expand that, I tell you that during the pandemic that was really needed. And we can still see today, some of the challenges the pandemic brought out with mental illness within the members, I think that some of that we were really looking at trying to expand was adolescent mental health, because during the pandemic, when everybody was shut out, they were isolated, they, they didn’t have that social interaction. And when when kids are in that age group or that period there they need that they need that social interaction with, with their peers, and, and because of that, I think that coupled with YouTube, internet, everything else, really kind of set the tone for a lot of these younger folks, and I’m glad that we’ve got those services available. I know that one of the things that we’re looking at is we just recently hired a psychiatric nurse practitioner out there, someone that can go ahead on and prescribe medication for that, and really looking to expand that area because I think that that is a needed area only highlighted by the fact of the pandemic. So that, social services and and all these other issues that typically plague many reservations.

Wyatt Beckman 29:01

Yeah and the timing. 2018, you open the facility and then little over a year later have COVID-19 happen and there was clearly a recognized need and it sounds like the need has not gone away and there’s even more growth and expanding to more services and providing additional access. We started our conversation talking about balancing history and recognizing all the sacrifices and culture that have come before you and innovation on on the other side, new approaches or new ideas. When I was looking at the brochure for all of the services provided by the health center which is quite a long list as you as you talked about. Something caught my attention though, in there’s a philosophy section says what the philosophy is for the center and how you approach providing care. And it says, “we recognize the importance of our clients reconnecting with community, culture, and their spirituality as an essential component of recovery.” And we’ve talked about being tight knit community, and those relationships and the importance of those bonds, those family bonds and social bonds. And I think, especially in rural communities, those are really important. It’s that statement, and that philosophy strikes me as a recognition that folks in our rural communities, especially, that are seeking those behavioral health treatments, or addiction treatment services, they’re often really connected to, to the community really connected to the place and the space. And yet, because access to those services is often limited, to receive behavioral health services, you have to leave your community and go an hour away two hours away. So when you think about providing behavioral health services, right here, in your community, where it’s easily accessible for members, and they don’t have to go far away. And you think about all that you you’ve built – How does having a facility that’s here, facilitate being able to allow people to connect to their community and their culture?

Chairman Rupnick 31:44

One of the things that, that we thought about when we were looking at this was Prairie Band Potawatomi are very traditional, and a lot of us have hung on to those ways that have been passed down by our ancestors to us today. And so we rely on that, those ways. And we want to make sure that those providers that are providing that care, understand that because there is a stigma, I guess, about mental health, and even today, a lot of people are not really embracing it, you know, and how do we bring somebody in that that can feel comfortable talking about those issues? And, you know, maybe they said, “Well, I went out here and done this, but I still need a little more additional help.” And having those providers understand some of the processes and steps that they went through, maybe initially through their traditional or cultural ways, and understand that that is still important to them, and how can we incorporate other treatments, that would take that into account there too.

Wyatt Beckman 33:06

And that that piece is probably less likely to happen if you’ve got to go, go drive to KC or probably Topeka, and you know, drive 30 plus minutes or 30 minutes or so down to Topeka, you don’t get that that experience probably in the same way that you have when you have that facility here.

Chairman Rupnick 33:27

Exactly. And you know, looking at constant education, constant reminding folks of our cultural, our heritage, how that fits in and really what that does to make the decision or helps them guide those decisions that they make needs to be taken into account and and base those practices incorporating some of that.

Wyatt Beckman 34:00

Yeah, absolutely. Absolutely. So the the Behavioral Health Center, which in 2018, was a new, a new construction is not the only not the only expansion of health services you’ve had. Much more recently, in the spring of this year. You got to participate in another ribbon cutting, been cutting a lot of ribbons and opening doors. This time. It was the expansion of your Health Center. And the expansion added about 1500 square feet of space. The dental space more than doubled. You added additional office space in the conference area. The administrative offices were relocated there. And on top of all that you had a new space for a Diabetes Prevention Program. The health center already has as a medical clinic, has MRI capabilities, has a pharmacy, health education programming, all under one roof. Here in rural northeast Kansas. I think many people could be surprised by hearing all those services, both the number and the level of services provided, provided here. You know, we drove in. This is this is not a metropolis, it’s not a big city up here. And as someone who grew up in a small town where I was often driving for, for appointments, I can only imagine what a great resource that is for your members and talked about thinking about the future and creating a place where you can thrive. I can only imagine that that that supports that. But you you said something in that ribbon cutting that caught my attention, you said, “This expansion will allow us to increase our capacity to meet the needs of our members.” I think that that’s that makes – it’s pretty straightforward. But the second piece you said, “And it was designed to allow for changes in an ever growing environment.” There, we’re back to this idea of how do we build for the future. So even as you’re celebrating, cutting a ribbon celebrating the growth, we have this new facility, you’re recognizing that things will continue to change. So when you think about the next 5-10 years, how do you see how do you see the Nation continuing to grow or evolve to meet those changing needs?

Chairman Rupnick 36:47

One of the things that we were looking at was reduction of energy costs. And so we we’re in the process of utilizing solar panels on top of geothermal to help power that facility, so that we’re not, you know, polluting the air or anything around us. I think my other dream for expansion would be to utilize technology. Right now we’re trying to secure grants, that would provide fiber to every resident within the boundaries of the reservation, the 11 by 11, so that we can take advantage of what like the VA has; telehealth. So those folks that need to be monitored, they can be monitored at home, we can, you know, direct their care, so on and so forth. So those are some of the areas that I would really like to, you know, move forward on, we’re working in that direction to get that done. And, and just being able to provide different services for our members. One of the things that we’re trying to secure right now is mailout pharmacy, kind of like the VA does. Because a lot of times if you’re getting medication that’s on a regular basis, you don’t have to come in and do that, just call it in, we’ll mail it out. We’ll get it there as long as you got the right number of prescriptions. I mean, I do it with the VA on my medication, so we should be able to offer that to them too.

Wyatt Beckman 38:33

Wow. Even even more innovations and growth planned. And you touched on a topic that I think will be will ring true for a lot of folks, unfortunately, in our in our rural communities. And we talked about the potential of telehealth, but that’s built on the foundation of solid broadband internet. And so you we look at the potential for what those services could be and you say first, we’ve got to get the broadband out there and that’s unfortunately true for a lot of our other parts of the state. The other piece that I heard that is interesting. You, we talked about your experience with with the VA and your you worked for over a dozen years there and it sounds like you found a way to bring in all of that experience and you marry your experience, the ideas and your knowledge with how do we are we serve our members, honor our tradition, honor the constitutional requirements we have, and then you, you blend that all together with with being really open to, to new ideas. And you put all that together and you’re in a really rural part of our state in the northeast corner, you’ve built a new clinic, you’ve expanded access to services, you’ve provided vaccines, not only to your members, but everyone in the community, it’s really a, it’s really impressive what you’ve been able to accomplish. And I’m excited to see what’s next, in the next five to 10 years.

Chairman Rupnick 40:38

Now, one of the things that a lot of folks don’t realize is that a majority of the services that we provide come directly from our gaming revenues. So all of the revenues that we receive, a lot of that goes back into the services that we have, and the benefits that we provide for our, our members.

Wyatt Beckman 41:00

And so when you think about expanding, expanding services, and the the expansion of the health care services, can’t be siloed, from some of the other economic development and activities for the for the whole, the whole Nation. And I think sometimes when we think about rural communities and health care access, we want to silo off and just say, Okay, let’s just think about health care. But I think it’s true in a lot of communities, the success of a hospital is connected to the success of the community as a whole. And some of the economic opportunities about the quality of life and for the for the Nation, here, that one of the things that’s really connected is the casino, and how well that does, you’re able to provide other services based on the success there.

Chairman Rupnick 42:01

Everything is all tied together. I mean, in and even in a lot of those rural communities, maybe it’s ag, maybe it’s, you know, some other type of industry, feedlots or stockyards or things like that. But I think that, you know, one of the things that that I’ve always tried to impress upon council and the directors and our general manager, because it’s a challenge to bring in health care providers or any other employees out here, not very many folks want to move to rural Kansas to provide services. Let’s be creative on you know, how we are working with our employees, let’s be creative on some of the different areas that they may be asking for. Let’s think outside of the box, I hate to use that term, because it’s a kind of overused cliche, but you still have to look outside to try and figure out what is the path that I can take, that still provides a services for our members, but still provides a good working environment for our employees that will ultimately take care of our members.

Wyatt Beckman 43:21

Right and I think, sometimes when we think about where organizations or business or big efforts where the most innovation happens, we think about innovation, we think about technology, and we think Tech, we think big cities, but I think there’s so much innovation that happens in our rural communities, in some cases, out of necessity, but in a lot of cases, it’s it’s because there’s a lot of really bright, capable people in our rural communities that just as you said, look and say, we can’t, we can’t act like we are a big city, we have to be creative in how we attract and how we provide and how we support our, our our community members. And you’ve talked about how you do that here on the for your tribe, but I think that’s true for rural communities of all sorts.

Chairman Rupnick 44:20

Oh, absolutely. I mean, you know, you’re dealing with limited funds. So you have to be or that environment forces you to be creative on, on some of those things that you can do to be able to provide for those residents in those different areas.

Wyatt Beckman 44:36

Yeah, absolutely. I think we’ve had a great conversation. And I just want to want to thank you again, for for having us and that we’re delighted to be able to to make the short drive relatively short driver for us up here. But thank you, thank you so much for for having us here in this beautiful space. I feel like I, sitting so close to where you normally sit maybe we should have sat on on different spots but you are doing so many innovative things to expand access to care and to make a community that can thrive here and I appreciate you sharing your wisdom and your lessons learned with us.

Chairman Rupnick 45:28

Well, thank you for coming up here and thank you for allowing me to share our story.

Wyatt Beckman 45:33


Voice over 45:34

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Transcribed by

Health on the Plains Production Team

Wyatt J. Beckman, M.P.H., C.H.E.S., Host

Theresa Freed, M.A., Producer, Editor

Emma Uridge, C.H.E.S., Field Producer, Coordinator

Stewart Cole, Editor, Graphic Designer

About Kansas Health Institute

The Kansas Health Institute supports effective policymaking through nonpartisan research, education and engagement. KHI believes evidence-based information, objective analysis and civil dialogue enable policy leaders to be champions for a healthier Kansas. Established in 1995 with a multiyear grant from the Kansas Health Foundation, KHI is a nonprofit, nonpartisan educational organization based in Topeka.

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