When Helen Moreland saw water gushing into her living room in the Osage Senior Housing complex, she dialed 911.
“I didn’t know what else to do, I couldn’t get a hold of anyone from the Nation,” Moreland said. “[The 911 responder] answered and when I told them I lived in the [Osage Nation] senior housing they said, ‘Oh, that’s the Osage Nation, we don’t go there.’ So I asked them what I should do and they said, ‘I don’t know…’”
Moreland, 82, was one of eight elders whose pipes busted the week of Feb. 9 at the senior housing complex located in Pawhuska during the two weeks the reservation saw record snowfall and freezing temperatures. Houses all over the reservation experienced similar problems during the blizzard conditions, but what has Moreland upset is that she never received a call from anyone in the Osage government and it took eight days to fix the problem, she said.
For some elders it took longer.
Moreland went eight days without running water, in which three Osage Nation Housing Department maintenance workers came to check on her. They told her that seven other housing units had suffered the same fate and that the Nation was offering those elders a hotel stay at the Black Gold Motel, located in Pawhuska, while they worked on the units.
The workers would have to replace carpet in some units, due to potential mold, redo kitchen and bathroom tile floors in others as well as repair the pipe systems.
Moreland, who has Parkinson’s Disease, is visited regularly by caregivers. The caregiver helps her with various tasks, including transportation. Moreland can drive and owns a vehicle but prefers not to drive because at any given time she could lose control of her muscles, she said. Knowing that the Black Gold could not accommodate such a patient, Moreland’s caregiver had Moreland stay with her at her home.
The caregiver declined comment.
However, Moreland and the other elders affected by the water leakage were given the choice to stay at their housing unit while they were being repaired but they would have to find a place to shower. When Moreland asked what she was supposed to do for a restroom, the maintenance workers had been instructed to offer a port-a-john that could be placed anywhere inside her home or in her backyard.
“When I heard that, I thought they were joking,” Moreland said. “What was I supposed to do, go out in my backyard in the middle of the night in my nightgown? Do the [port-a-johns] have guard rails to help me?”
She laughed at this last comment and said, “It was an experience, it really was; and you learn from it and I guess your sense of humor comes out.”
Moreland said, with the help of a friend, she is writing a letter to the Chief’s Office to complain about the events and to ask for compensation for all tenants affected for the electric and water bills that will reflect the leakage and the electricity used during the eight days by those repairing her unit.
The Osage News e-mailed a series of questions to the Osage Nation Housing Department about the leakage and their policies and procedures in handling such a situation. The questions were deferred to the Chief’s Office.
“At no time during the situation to which you are referring, were residents' health or safety in jeopardy,” said Chris White, executive director of governmental affairs. “The Osage Nation Housing Department has policies and procedures in place and those have been and are currently being followed.”
The Chief’s Office declined to comment on the questions e-mailed, stating that unless the Osage News provided the comments made by the elders affected by the leakages the Chief’s Office couldn’t answer.
Norma Osage Bird, 78, was another elder affected by the leakage, but in her opinion, the Housing Department did the best they could under the circumstances.
She said the water was more than two-inches deep in her living room and that maintenance workers saved most of her belongings by putting them in the garage. She was offered to stay at the Black Gold Motel as well but opted to stay in her home because the motel was too cold.
She said by the time she came home her plumbing had been fixed so she didn’t have to leave her home. The maintenance workers had to replace the tiles in the kitchen and bathroom. She heard rumors of other residents being displaced but was thankful her unit was fixed quickly.
“I think they did as well as they could,” Bird said. “I’m thankful they fixed my home.”
The Osage Nation Governmental Operations Congressional Committee discussed calling a meeting with the ON Housing Department during the Spring Hun-Kah session that begins March 21, said Speaker of the Congress Jerri Jean Branstetter. The meeting would focus on senior housing issues such as the blizzard woes this year and other housing issues, she said.
[Editor's Note: This story was updated on March 4.]