My Journey with the Prairie Band Potawatomi Nation
By John Holtz
2022 marks my 50th and final year in healthcare administration and my 18th and last year working for the
Prairie Band Potawatomi Nation. I am incredibly grateful for the many opportunities PBPN has provided for my family and me. I genuinely appreciate the support and encouragement I received throughout my time at PBPN from all the Tribal Council members, co-workers, government staff, and community members. I would like to share a few highlights of my journey with PBPN.
I have been blessed to have a long and meaningful career in healthcare. Before arriving at PBPN, I had more than 30 years of healthcare leadership experience at Children’s Mercy Hospital in Kansas City, Shriner’s Hospital for Children in Tampa, and St. Paul University Hospital in Dallas. I had achieved my career goals of becoming a Hospital CEO, obtaining an MBA with a concentration in Healthcare Administration from Rockhurst University, and becoming a Fellow in the American College of Healthcare Executives.
The Beginning of my Journey with PBPN
In late 2004 I was contacted by CRAssociates, a healthcare management and staffing company, which PBPN had engaged to assist with the tribe’s transition from Indian Health Services to owning and operating a tribal clinic. CRA recruited me to become the first full-time Administrator of the PBP Health Center. I had been on many reservations, but I had never been to Prairie Band Land. I was curious to see the reservation and the healthcare services provided to the tribal members.
I met with the Tribal Council, and they shared their exciting vision to build a state-of-the-art outpatient
health center in the heart of the reservation. At that time, PBPN was using the old Indian Health Service clinic building one block off the Holton town square. I was shocked when I toured the small, dilapidated Clinic with outdated equipment and furnishings. I had never seen a healthcare service in such a rundown condition. The Clinic had one full-time doctor and approximately a dozen employees.
As I left the Clinic to return home, one patient was left in the lobby. I walked over to say hello to the tribal
As I turned to walk away, the elder tugged on my shirt sleeve and asked if I could help her. She
explained that she had waited at the Clinic for the last two days as a walk-in patient but was told that the
Clinic was too busy to see her. The Clinic had just told the elder to come back the following day as a walk-in patient.
I walked the elder back to see the physician I had just met with, and the elder and I pleaded her case for her to be seen that afternoon. There were no other patients in the building, and the Clinic was scheduled to be open for another 45 minutes. The physician reluctantly agreed to see the elder that afternoon. It was a briefly satisfying moment as I left the Clinic that I had assisted the elder. But on the way home to Overland Park, my anger started to boil. I was angry about the poor clinic facilities and lack of access to high quality healthcare for tribal members.
When I arrived home, I described to my wife, Linda, the depressing clinic environment I had just witnessed. We decided that I should change my career path and accept the challenging PBPN Clinic position if it was offered.
Linda had deep roots in Indian Country. She owned and produced one of the country’s premier indoor Indian art festivals, the Spirit of America Festival, held annually in Atlanta. The festival attracted more than 400 of America’s premier Indian and American wildlife artists who traveled from all corners of the country to display and sell their artwork. The indoor festival was held in a 60,000-square-foot exhibition center and featured world-class art, a performance stage featuring native recording artists, a native fashion show, and wildlife educators.
I had tagged along for many years with Linda as she traveled to numerous Native American art shows,
festivals, and cultural and spiritual events promoting her art festival and recruiting artists. As an outsider and non-native, I had a fair amount of knowledge about some challenges Native Americans faced. I had extensive experience planning and directing healthcare construction projects and was confident I could improve PBPN’s healthcare services.
I am forever grateful that CRA and the Tribal Council agreed to hire me. I began work in the first week of
Early Challenges at the Clinic
My first crisis arrived one week later after a fierce, week-long ice storm closed area schools, businesses, and PBPN government offices for the week. My experience was with acute care hospitals, which didn’t close due to severe weather conditions. I insisted that the Clinic remain open during the ice storm. We had a busy week at the Clinic treating ice-related falls, flu patients, and filling prescriptions. That week, our clinic staff formed a strong team spirit and demonstrated that we would do everything possible to serve the community.
Our second crisis came one month later when we were given a 30-day eviction notice to vacate our Holton Clinic building. There were few options available in the short time frame, but I connected with the owner of the old Holton Hospital building. We negotiated a reasonable rental rate and fast-tracked construction work to meet our Clinic’s needs. Our temporary Clinic was so attractive that several tribal members thought the Holton clinic should become our permanent location. But the Clinic wasn’t large enough to house all the expanding clinic requirements and wasn’t centrally located on the reservation.
A Growing & Prosperous Clinic
My most satisfying career accomplishments have been the talented staff I have recruited and the staff I have had the privilege of mentoring. In 2005, I recruited Dr. Terry Harter as our first Medical Director and Brenda Catron, Director of Nursing. Brenda had a successful career working as an operating room nurse and the mayor of her community in southeast Kansas. I was thrilled that I convinced Breda to return home to serve her PBPN community. Dr. Harter, Brenda, and Michael Carpenter, Director of Pharmacy, formed the foundation of our highly qualified clinical team.
In the fall of 2006, the new PBPN Health Center opened and featured new services, including dental services, radiology, behavioral health, expanded wellness programs, and a drive-up pharmacy window (the first in Jackson County). Our growing healthcare team wanted to prove to the community that we were offering high-level healthcare, so we embarked on rigorous preparation to achieve Joint Commission Accreditation, the gold standard for healthcare accreditation. When we were awarded our Joint Commission Accreditation, we were notified that the PBPN was the first tribal or Indian Health Service program in the country to receive the coveted accreditation status. The Clinic continues to retain its Joint Commission Accreditation status.
The Beginning of Prairie Band Health Services & Prairie Band Construction
In 2009 when the CRA contract ended, PBPN took over the management, and the clinic employees
transitioned to PBPN employees. The Tribal Council asked me to assist their efforts with business
development. I started two PBPN companies, Prairie Band Health Services (PBHS), a healthcare staffing
company, and Prairie Band Construction, a general contractor. Both companies are continuing to grow and become more profitable. I also assisted the Tribal Council in identifying and evaluating other business
opportunities that were determined not a good fit for the tribe.
In 2010, PBHS was awarded our first contract with the Navy to provide Emergency Medicine Physicians to
the remote Twentynine Palms, CA, Marine Base. In the early days, we operated on a shoestring budget, and the Tribal Council had to approve additional funding in an emergency meeting so that we could fund our initial physician payroll.
In the last two years, PBHS’ primary client has been Indian Health Service. We currently serve tribal
communities in Albuquerque, Taos, Shiprock, NM, Phoenix, AZ, Wellpinit, Nespelem and Omak, WA, and
Yakima and Warm Springs, OR.
PBHS is in good hands with my replacement, Trey Strecker, who has outstanding healthcare executive
experience at Stormont Vail Health. Trey is supported by a professional team including Kathy Jones, Director of Recruiting; Ron Broadnax, Director of Business Development; Richele Pahmahmie and Brandi Davis provide administrative support. Prairie Band LLC has experienced dramatic growth and success under the leadership of Jacob Wamego, Tyler Levier, Stan Van Ostran, Rockell Otero, Samantha Mellies, and Emma Carreno.
My journey with PBPN has come to a fork in the road. On my path, I look forward to spending more time with Linda and our family with five grandkids, aged 12 to 16, and working on several personal projects, including completing my first novel about the world’s first dog. I know that PBPN and PBLLC are on the superhighway to success.
I look forward to the day when our paths cross again on the yellow brick road.