Group home on Navajo Nation seen as solution to elderly care

By S.J. Wilson
Birdsprings, Arizona (NFIC) 10-08

“We’re not rich; we’re not in it for glory or reward. We are a community looking to meet its own needs.”

These were the words of Thomas Walker Jr., council delegate for Birdsprings Chapter on the Navajo Nation. Walker also heads the Nation’s Health programs.

“Close to ten years ago our community determined that there was a need for elderly housing and nursing staff,” Walker said in a joint meeting between Birdsprings Chapter officials and members of the Navajo Nation Department of Social Services. “We started the organization Tolchii’kooh in 1995. We have been involved in human development projects, and work to potentially provide housing. We now expect a ten-unit group home to be completed 18 months from now. We are also working on a senior citizens center separate from the housing facility. We are concentrating on good things in our community.”

Cora Maxx Phillips, director of the Navajo Nation Department of Social Services, described Walker as a visionary leader of his community.

“The Navajo Nation Government is willing to assist with partnerships geared towards helping Navajo families,” Maxx Phillips continued. “From that perspective, I have my staff here willing to come forth with technological assessments, to see how we can help bring forth operating costs for this facility.”

Maxx Phillips said that day care facilities for Navajo elderly are greatly needed on the reservation considering their children are often forced off the reservation to seek employment.

“We are talking about a very vulnerable population,” Maxx Phillips continued. “What happens to the elderly who are left at home alone and neglected? We can go a long way in helping in this situation. It would be ideal for every chapter to have an elderly group home.”

“What we wanted was a multipurpose building and center, with activities happening in the dining room and kitchen,” Toni Miller said. “We envisioned an inside/outside environment where residents would have access to the outdoors as well as privacy with opportunities for interaction in both areas. Land will be no problem, as the chapter has identified land on the southeast corner of the tract for the elderly group home.

Ron White, who directs the Tolchii’kooh, Inc. project, passed out a conceptual drawing of the facility planned for Birdsprings.

Roger Atcitty, also with Social Services, described the hard work taken to develop the plan.

“We originally envisioned two assisted living facilities, however we found the cost was too outrageous because the price of building materials had gone up,” Atcitty explained. “We were short on money and had to seek more money to finish the project. In August 2008, we hired someone to do project management, and we are back on line.”


“We are almost there, but there are questions,” Atcitty continued. “NAHASDA is concerned about who will operate the facility, and where the money will come from to open the project. It is good to hear that NAHASDA will work with you; but you need to get your organization together, your start-up funding proposals to various organizations, a board of directors, and your financial status. These groups may ask for a one-year audit, a two-year audit or a three-year audit. We are here to help.”

Miller, who works as Arizona Long Term Care case manager, advised that referrals for the facility would come from her office.

“I’m glad you’re talking about operating money; funding from NAHASDA and the Navajo Housing Authority is getting rare,” Miller said. “You need to look for a philanthropist to help you seek money; we will help you. We won’t walk away from this facility, because we need it.”

Maxx Phillips said that if start-up funds were not available for the project, lobbying must take place.

“We must ask the BIA for start-up cash,” Maxx Phillips said. “This is only one of many similar ventures that will come up here on the Navajo Nation, and we don’t want these entities to fold for lack of start-up funds.”

Amelia Wilcox, a Public Health nurse in Winslow, entered the meeting to offer her services in managing the facility locally – she is from Birdsprings Chapter.

Maxx Phillip advised Wilcox that there would be a lot of work and travel to be done, but that she felt it was doable.

Eileen Hardy, who serves as the Birdsprings Chapter Community Services Coordinator, described a visit she had paid to an independent living facility in Minnesota.

“One area had a nursing staff, and the other was an independent living facility,” Hardy said. “It had two rows of housing across the street from the senior center. I am really interested in doing the same for our community. I don’t like the idea of our elderly sent to Payson or Phoenix – and gas prices have made it impossible for families to visit their elders there. Whatever I can do to assist, I will do,” she promised.