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Sioux Valley Dakota Nation Health Centre: Mission Possible

Sometimes I wonder about mission statements. So many of them are comprised of large volumes of meaningless rhetoric. I’m sure we’re all familiar with lofty statements of grandeur including familiar canned-phrases like “Superior this and value-added that, best-in-class, value for our shareholders” and the full gambit of mumbo-jumbo this, that and the other thing too; running on and on in a similar way to this sentence. The Sioux Valley Health Centre’s mission is a refreshingly simple one, “Committed to Improving Quality of Life with Compassion and Respect”. I’d like to tell you how they live up to it.

I first visited the Sioux Valley Health Centre last winter and it was clear that improvements were badly needed. The existing facility was designed for a completely different purpose and redesigning it to accommodate the ever expanding list of programs and health-care services was job number one. With a tight schedule and an even tighter budget, our team joined their team we got down to business. The design phase finished before we knew it and soon Construction Phase I was under way.

I had the opportunity to visit the centre again two weeks ago. Construction Phase I is nearly completed and a handful of staff have moved into their new spaces. Many are still relegated to temporary workstations while Phase II gets started but the good news is that nobody was working with their coats on this time around. Included in the long list of improvements, new mechanical systems have been designed and installed, windows and doors replaced and the overall efficiency of the building drastically improved. So, if I had to choose only one word to describe the half-renovated facility I would have to go with “warm”. Of course the renovations contributed significantly to the “warmth” but there was more to it than that. It was the people; they were warm, and happy. Everyone was busy getting things done and with all of the work going on I began to wonder how the staff had been coping. How did they feel about their space now that the first phase of construction was substantially completed? How were they managing to “get things done” from within the organised chaos? Were they frustrated or were they happy to endure the burden in order to achieve the desired effect? There was only one way to find out.

I had the pleasure bumping into Melvina Genaille, the centre’s custodian. She was moving some cleaning supplies into her temporary “janitor’s closet” which was actually a small office already jam-packed-full of “stuff” which was in no way related to Melvina’s job. I got straight to the point and asked her how things had been going for her during the construction. Melvina admitted that her job had been made more difficult but that she didn’t mind because the changes were exciting for her community and she was happy to help in any way she could. Then with a smile, Melvina said something interesting. “This is one of biggest things to happen in Sioux Valley in a very long time.” She went on to explain that many of the Sioux Valley residents are very interested in the project because of the additional local medical services that will be available upon completion.

As Melvina spoke it became abundantly clear that the Sioux Valley Health Centre is more important to the residents of Sioux Valley than the average visitor might expect. She discussed a new policy asking clients to remove their footwear at the door and that employees have committed to wearing indoor footwear; a level of respect not often witnessed in public spaces today and a policy sure to lighten Melvina’s workload. Melvina is a soft-spoken and pleasant person to chat with, but I’m not sure I’d want her to catch me wearing my shoes in the Sioux Valley Health Centre. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

All joking aside, Melvina’s comments struck a chord with me. After all, the people of Sioux Valley Dakota Nation are well-known for their recent achievements related to self-governance. There are other construction projects happening and the Chief and Council have recently implemented a $3 Million Flood Protection Program. These accomplishments are what many would qualify as, “a very big deal” for the SVFN community. Yet, as I moved about talking with others, it became clear that many were on the same page as Melvina.

I sat down with Jaime Eastman, the Finance Administrator who now works in the recently finished

administration area. Jamie was excited because once completed client records will be more secure and the staff will be in a better position to identify individual client locations within the building at any given time. Jamie admitted that keeping the centre open during the construction was difficult task but stressed that it was absolutely necessary. When asked how they were coping Jaime credited Mandy Armstrong (the Executive Director) saying she was instrumental in coordinating and communicating the changes with the staff which made things, “a lot easier for everyone”.

It wasn’t long before I ran into Band Councillor Frank McKay. As a former Chief of Police, Frank is a well-known member of the Dakota First Nations Community. Frank explained that “this is just the beginning for the Sioux Valley Health Centre” and “the whole community is looking forward to getting it done so that they are able to come here and get the services they need”. Frank was another in a long line of good people who emphasised how the lives of the community residents would be improved. he was quick to point out that the new design would reduce the need for community members to travel to Brandon for services that will soon be available locally.

After our visit, I had an opportunity discuss the project with the SVFN Tribal Chief, Vince Tacan. He pointed out that the facility was originally designed and built as the Band Office and was never intended to accommodate the expansion of health care services. In fact, the project has been so high on Chief and Council’s priority list that they (and previous councils) had been vacating the facility in stages until recently when they were out of it all together. Chief Tacan said the move was important because it allowed for the expansion of local healthcare services that the community desperately needs.

Clearly the SVFN Chief and Council and the staff and management of the Sioux Valley Health Centre understand that the facility is a valuable asset to the Sioux Valley First Nation people. Chief and Council have moved into much smaller quarters to accommodate the expansion. The people in the trenches are enduring tremendous difficulty related to the construction and the ongoing relocation of people, supplies and services.

Yet in spite of it all, those responsible for the operation and management of the Sioux Valley Health Centre have demonstrated an unusually positive attitude and a genuine dedication to honouring their one-sentence mission statement. If there is a group of people who are more “Committed to Improving Quality of Life with Compassion and Respect” than those involved with this project, I have yet to meet them.

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