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Native Sun News: Great Plains health board battles $1M in debt

Filed Under: Health | National
More on: gptchb, jerilyn church, native sun news, south dakota
     

The following story was written and reported by Jesse Abernathy, Native Sun News Editor. All content © Native Sun News.


As the new executive director of Great Plains Tribal Chairmen’s Health Board in Rapid City, Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe member Jerilyn Church has devised and implemented a restructuring plan in an effort to address the nonprofit’s $1 million debt. Church says the board of directors wants a new direction for the struggling agency. PHOTO COURTESY/GREAT PLAINS TRIBAL CHAIRMEN’S HEALTH BOARD

Health Board cuts workforce
Rapid City-based nonprofit $1M in debt
By Jesse Abernathy
Native Sun News Editor

RAPID CITY — A local Native American health organization is currently undergoing drastic departmental restructuring and streamlining.

The Great Plains Tribal Chairmen’s Health Board (GPTCHB), which is based in Rapid City, recently delivered what it calls “reduction in force” (RIF) letters to 18 of its employees. The mass reduction is part of the executive director’s overall strategy to resolve the $1 million debt the agency has incurred.

The move wasn’t intended to single out any individual employee, according to Executive Director Jerilyn Church, and all 18 employees have been given the option of reapplying for positions with the agency.

GPTCHB is a nonprofit, primarily grant-funded agency that works to reduce health disparities through active inclusion of the 16 tribes it serves in partnership with the regional Aberdeen Area Office of the Indian Health Service. South and North Dakota, Nebraska and Iowa are included in both the GPTCHB and the Aberdeen Area IHS’s service range, with approximately 122,000 individuals served. The health board, however, is governed by the 16 tribal chairpersons and presidents it serves, while the IHS is administered by the federal government.

GPTCHB currently has 70 employees.

Church, who has headed up GPTCHB for the past seven months, confirmed the RIF letters and disclosed the agency’s debt amount in the interest of transparency, she said.

She says the agency’s reorganization process has been ongoing under her initiation and direction since becoming executive director in late February.

According to Church, who is a member of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe, the GPTCHB Board of Directors authorized the reorganization process when she came on board, but didn’t approve the distribution of employee reduction in force letters until Sept. 7, just prior to the end of the agency’s fiscal year on Sept. 30.

This almost last-minute approval put a damper on Church’s plan to ease employees into the transition by giving them each a 30-day notice of the reduction letters. “Things didn’t work out quite the way I wanted them to,” she said.

However, over the course of the past seven months, Church said she has let GPTCHB employees know about the changes through various staff meetings.

“With the restructuring, it was pretty extensive in realignment of programs under (departmental) umbrellas,” she said. “The way the organization was structured before they really didn’t have a comprehensive organizational chart. There were little ‘islands’ unto themselves, and there were no real clear lines of reporting and oversight. And there were some good people doing some good work – it’s the system that was in place (that) really was the reason why the organization was struggling financially.”

Church added that GPTCHB had no real strategic planning behind how it was departmentally structured, which led her to restructure departmental umbrellas to reflect contemporary public health service models and to better align departments that carry out similar functions.

“There are savings in having one (higher-paid) director oversee two programs with (lesser-paid) program managers than it is to have two directors overseeing two programs. That was the kind of strategic thinking that was behind my decisions” to eliminate redundancy, she said.

There also was no standardized salary schedule in place, said Church. “So we had support staff who, in my opinion, weren’t making a living wage.”

Based on an independent marketing firm’s analysis, she said the salary schedule has been adjusted to pay employees living wages that are commensurate with their job duties and responsibilities as well as their educational degrees and backgrounds.

Administration has been hit the hardest by her restructuring plan, according to Church. “But I’d rather have an indirect service area impacted more, rather than a direct service area, or an area that actually provides services to our clients,” she noted. “None of the field positions were impacted or reduced.”

The overall reduction in staff is really minimal, she said, with only six positions actually being eliminated. “Twenty-nine positions were realigned, but 23 new ones were created out of that realignment.”

“The problem is that to make (the realignment) fair to everybody whose positions and roles were impacted and also to be able to attract the talent that we need to put into roles that have a high level of responsibility and need somebody with at least a master’s degree to oversee them, I felt that the fairest way to go about that was for everybody whose position changed into either a new role or was eliminated was to be given the opportunity to apply for something else.”

As of Sept. 21, Church said that only two out of the 18 employees who received reduction in force letters chose not to reapply for positions with GPTCHB.

Since being established in 1992, GPTCHB has essentially had the same organizational structure in place.

However, there is really no one to blame for the agency’s 20-year organizational inefficiency, Church says, “it’s just a systemic process that was overlooked.”

In looking to the future, Church is hoping to somewhat reduce debt by incorporating for-profit weight into the nonprofit agency through hosting a series of training workshops for outside human service entities.

“I worked very hard to make this process fair, but at the same time, it needed to happen; it needed to happen in order for the organization to get a strong foundation.”

(Contact Jesse Abernathy at editor@nsweekly.com)


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