Menominee Nation Increases Access for Physical Activity

The Menominee Nation achieved a big win for the health and wellness of their community. Their recreation center, filled with new exercise equipment, is now open 24 hours a day. With a simple swipe of a card, community members can now exercise when it works best for their schedule.

The Challenge

In Menominee, twenty five percent of community members over the age of 25 struggle with Type II diabetes and heart disease. Unfortunately, Menominee is not an outlier. In Wisconsin, diabetes is the seventh leading cause of death and nearly 4 out of 10 Wisconsin adults have prediabetes. Research shows, however, that modest behavior changes can prevent or delay the onset of type 2 diabetes in people who have prediabetes. That’s why increased access to physical activity, such as 24-hour access to a local recreation center, can be a critical step in improving the health and wellness of communities across the state.

Introducing the Team

But research wasn’t the only driving factor for Menominee’s effort to implement 24-hour access to their recreation center. Their work was driven by something far more personal.

James Oshkeshequoam, Menominee Recreation Center staff, notes, “I have family members here who are having a rough time health-wise and exercise is a big part of the solution. So I made a decision to help my family, our youth, our people, and ultimately the future of the Menominee nation.”

Alan Tomow, another staff member at the Rec Center agrees that this work is as personal as it is evidence-based. He shares, “I really wanted to come back and help our tribe and our people ever since I was in middle school. I knew what I wanted to go to college for and what I wanted to eventually do professionally.”

Implementing the 24-hour card swipe system was a group effort. Multiple tribal agencies including the Tribal Health Clinic, the Recreation Department, legal council, the Tribal Insurance Department, Tribal Maintenance Department, the IT Department, and the Police Department all played critical roles in the preparing and implementing the new system.

Doing the Work

Scott Krueger, Coordinator of Diabetes Prevention at the Tribal Health Clinic, says that, in 2011, tribal agencies decided that childhood obesity was something they wanted to focus on. Additionally, the agencies agreed that a 24 hour swipe card system at the Rec Center would help address this priority area. Unfortunately, at that time, funding was low and staffing was even less available. Tribal leaders agreed to keep the idea on the back burner until implementing the system was more feasible. In 2014, the Wisconsin Obesity Prevention Initiative provided funding and the group was finally able to begin the planning process.

“In 2014, we brought together a group consisting of the Tribal Administration, the Tribal Clinic, the Recreation Department, and the Maintenance Department to begin making this thing a reality. It took two years of monthly meetings to get this addressed,” says Krueger.

Getting Real

Legal council provided input on policies and procedures for the Recreation Center and the Insurance Department created a reimbursement program for the cost of the access cards for any tribal employees. The Insurance Department also developed an incentive program for Rec Center usage.

Oshkeshequoam explains, “The tribe has an insurance wellness program and you get points whenever you swipe into the Rec Center. Your points reduce the premium costs of your insurance. People really appreciate that.”

The final step was installation of the swipe system and the security cameras. The group worked closely with tribal maintenance and the IT Department on this final stage. The security cameras are an important element of the newly accessible Rec Center. Oshkeshequoam notes, “The cameras helped with liability insurance so we could get the system approved. It also helps us ensure that people are using the fitness center according to approved policy and procedures (using spotters, making sure the machines are kept clean, that everything is put away). Most importantly, though, it helps make sure that the fitness center is a safe place to be.”

To further ensure safety, The Tribal police force includes the Rec Center on their nightly rounds. Increased staffing for the Rec Center now includes evening and Saturday monitors.

“It’s important that everyone feels comfortable using this space no matter the time of day or night.” says Oshkeshequoam.

Sustaining Success

Today, the Rec Center hums with activity and it is hard to imagine that the 24 hour swipe card system is still relatively new. To spread the word of the increased Rec Center hours, the planning team used the Tribal newspaper, digital signage across the reservation, and a tribal employee insurance fair where people could sign up directly for their new swipe cards. Oshkeshequoam and Tomow are working hard on building relationships.

“We’ve been working with all different age groups. Especially, with our youth. We’ve been building relationships and making things fun for them so they are more inclined to keep up the physical activity,” says Tomow, “We also started an elder program twice a week. More elders than ever are involved.”
One of the most exciting developments stemming from the increased accessibility is the usage by third shift workers.

Kreuger notes, “We have a lot of shift workers at the mill and the casino and it’s harder for them to stay healthy. Now they can exercise when their schedule allows.”
Now that the 24 hour swipe card system is fully in place, the group agrees that the process was long but that other communities can do it too. Kreuger notes that it just takes patience and persistence. It also takes reaching out for help. Kreuger and his team did just that by reaching out to other communities who have implemented similar policies and even some neighboring 24 hour fitness centers.

“We were worried that they [the 24 hour fitness centers] would see us as competition but they were actually very helpful. So don’t be afraid to reach out to communities and fitness centers nearby that you may think could be a competitor,” says Kreuger.

Looking ahead, the group agrees that the next step to ensuring the Rec Center is truly accessible is working closely with the Tribal Transportation Department to develop a transportation route that includes the Rec Center. Scott Kreuger sums up the project by noting that “Removing barriers to physical activity is so important in communities struggling with health challenges. I’m proud we’ve accomplished what we’ve accomplished so far. And so grateful to the Tribal Departments and Administrators who supported this work.”