About Us

U.N.I.T.E.—Uniting Nursing Homes in Tribal Excellence—is a collaborative of tribal nursing home stakeholders who network, discuss best practices, promote evidence-based education and trainings, and work on quality improvement initiatives.

Historical Background


UNITE Uniting Nursing Homes in Tribal Excellence began in 2014 with a phone call between Debbie Dyjak, a nurse educator at Archie Hendricks Senior Skilled Nursing Facility on the Tohono O’odham Nation in Southwest Arizona and Kay Branch who dedicated her life’s work to improving care for Alaska Native Elders specifically with the Bristol Bay Native Association and the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium in Anchorage. Dedicated service by early UNITE stakeholders allowed Kay’s vision of a Tribal Nursing Home collaborative to flourish since 2014. Tribal nursing homes, assisted living facilities, and now, home and community based service providers have a collaborative platform to establish best practices, build national relationships, promote evidence based education and trainings, and work together on quality improvement initiatives. Our ultimate goal is to provide culturally responsive and exceptional care for Tribal Elders and the disabled Tribal members throughout Indian Country. Our focus areas include:

  • Workforce development
  • Education
  • Advocacy
  • Funding opportunities
  • Communication
  • Regulatory relief

Early stakeholders included:

  • Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium
  • Utuqqanaat-Inaat Nursing Home
  • Archie Hendricks Senior Skilled Nursing Facility
  • Tribal Assisted Living Facilities
  • Cultural experts and educators
  • Quality Improvement Organizations (QIOs)
  • Administration for Community Living (ACL)
  • Indian Health Services
  • Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS)
  • Geriatric Education Centers and Geriatric Workforce Enhancement Programs
  • Office for Long Term Care Ombudsman
  • Tribal nursing home administrators and nursing leadership
  • Kauffman and Associates Inc. (Technical Assistance)
  • NCAI
  • LeadingAge

Board of Directors

  • Joseph Ray – President (Board member: Laguna Rainbow Corporation, Casa Blanca, NM)
  • Ina Weed – Vice President (Resource Manager: Morning Star Care Center, Fort Washakie, WY)
  • Brandi Moran – Secretary (Administrator: White River Health Care Center, White River, SD)
  • Ron Ross – Treasurer (CEO: Native American Health Management, Lincoln, NE)
  • Debbie Dyjak – Member (Quality Manager: Liberty Healthcare, Mesa, AZ)
  • Tiffany Shangreau – Member (Administrator: Oglala Sioux Lakota Nursing Home, Rushville, NE)
  • Deb Arbogast – Member (Administrator: Medicine Wheel Village, Eagle Butte, SD)
  • Mellisa Johnson – Member (Executive Director: Bering Sea Elders Group, Alaska)
  • Leiza Johnson – Member (QA Specialist,  Mountain-Pacific Quality Health, Anchorage, Alaska)
  • Lisa Palucci – Member (Clinical Quality Director: Liberty Healthcare, Phoenix, AZ)
  • Rosie Abab – Member (Administrator: Archie Hendricks: AZ)
  • Delia Lopez – Member (ALF Administrator: Archie Hendricks: AZ)
  • Tami Reed Member (Administrator: Morning Star Care Center, Fort Washakie, WY)
  • Kendall R. Brune, PhD, CHP, MBA, FACHCA member (Chairman, Arise Veteran Foundation)
  • Travis J. Le Duc, MBA member (Director of Support Security, Tohono O’odham Nursing Care Authority)

Our logo reflects our mission and honors our founder, Kay Branch:

“Like a branch on a tree, we UNITE to serve our Tribal Elders and disabled Tribal members, but our roots keep us all together”


  • 2014 Initiate monthly calls and conversations.
  • 2015 Inaugural annual meeting in Scottsdale, AZ. hosted by the University of Arizona Geriatric Education Center (Geriatric Workforce Enhancement Program)
  • 2015 Begin hosting LTSS CMS webinars.
  • 2016 Annual Meeting in Minneapolis, MN in conjunction with Title VI conference.
  • 2016 Begin authoring Best Practice reports available at CMS.gov/UNITE.
  • 2017 Annual Meeting at Archie Hendricks Senior Skilled Nursing Facility, Sells, AZ.
  • 2017 UNITE participates in CMS led Tribal Technical Advisory Group calls.
  • 2018 Annual Meeting in Washington, DC in conjunction with Title VI Conference including advocacy meetings with key US senatorial staff.
  • 2018 UNITE monthly newsletter initiated.
  • January 2019 UNITE formally organizes as a 501(c)3 nonprofit with bylaws and a board of directors.
  • August 2019 MOU signed with LeadingAge to partner in common goals.
  • October 2019 annual meeting as part of LeadingAge National conference.
  • November 2020 annual meeting as a part of LeadingAge National conference.

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