News and Notes

A Newsletter for Faculty and Staff of Idaho State University

January 17, 2011 — Vol. 27 No. 3

Shoshone-Bannock Tribes and Institute of Rural Health Collaborate on Wellness Center

The Shoshone-Bannock Tribes, with collaboration from the Idaho State University's Institute of Rural Health, have committed resources and staff to construct a fully-integrated, centrally-located community center at Fort Hall focused on health and wellness.

"This will be an incredible facility, designed to bring the Shoshone-Bannock community together through sporting events, fitness activities and educational classes for the common goal of wellness," said Nathan Small, chairman of the Fort Hall Business Council.

As envisioned, the facility would feature a swimming pool, basketball courts, fitness rooms, craft rooms, meeting rooms, diabetes diagnostic and treatment equipment, a kitchen and a variety of outdoor facilities including a softball field, baseball field, picnic shelters, hiking and jogging trails, a skate park and an outdoor gathering area.

Tribal leaders have discussed building a new center to replace and expand Timbee Hall, the current recreation center at Fort Hall, for at least a decade. In August 2009, the tribes commissioned Idaho State University's Institute of Rural Health to do an assessment of the health needs of the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes and to offer recommendations on how to best address those needs.

"There have been numerous studies conducted here that ask community members what they want to see on the reservation," said Angela Mendez, director of the tribes' Health and Human Services Department. "Consistently, we have heard from people that they want a place where they can exercise and socialize. There is a great need for a wellness center here and that's why we've pushed it forward."

Since the completion of the ISU study, the tribes have made great strides toward the creation of the center, which will cost upwards of $25 million. The tribes have allocated $2.18 million to create a business plan, capitalization-fundraising plan and to cover the costs of an environmental assessment on the proposed site just west of the Fort Hall Casino. A wellness center board has also been created and seven newly-elected board members will oversee the project.

"A year ago, the center was just a concept, but we've made a lot of concrete progress towards its completion," said Alonzo Coby, project manager for the Wellness Center. "Mainly, we now have a Wellness Board committed to getting the center built."

The project has gained the support of tribal members.

"My feedback from tribal members is phenomenal and it has changed a lot in the last year," said Alice Kane, tribal wellness center coordinator. "There was a lot of apprehension when it first started, but people are now excited and looking forward to it, and wanting to know more and how to help."

The facility is envisioned as being much more than a recreational facility and will offer classes on diabetes, alcohol and substance abuse, and other health issues. It will also offer cultural classes and classes for seniors, offices for health educators and a storefront police station. There will be rooms for private and community functions, from hosting banquets to meetings.

Its overall purpose is to "educate and promote the physical, mental, emotional, social and spiritual well-being of community by providing culturally relevant wellness services to all," according to Coby.

To fund the center, the tribes are currently identifying grants and developing a fundraising campaign to help build the facility, as well as considering the sale of fitness memberships to offset costs.

The decision to build the center was largely based on information presented by Neill Piland, director of the ISU Institute of Rural Health, who completed the project's feasibility study and currently serves on the wellness center board. The study provided hard data on the health of tribal members and shared best practices for improving a community's wellness.

"The health problems on the reservation, many of them behavioral health problems, mirror what is going on with the general populations, with increases in diabetes, obesity, high blood pressure and coronary and heart disease," Piland said. "However, spending on health care on the reservation is less than half of what we spend on the surrounding general population on a per capita basis."

Since the reservation was established, the tribes have relied primarily on the federal Indian Health Services for the provision of health care services to tribal members, said Laverne Beech, tribal public affairs manager. With limited funding, IHS dollars go more toward treatment rather than prevention.

"In more recent years, the focus has shifted to disease prevention, but funding still falls far short. The feasibility study results have provided the hard data for the tribal leaders to say, 'This facility will save lives. We need it'," she said.