The Cherokee Nation is raising salaries for more than 200 employees at its eight health centers and W.W. Hastings Hospital to better compete with urban areas for health care professionals.
Nurse practioners, physician assistants, pharmacists, doctors and dentists working in Cherokee Nation health facilities on average will see an 11 percent pay increase being phased into their paychecks February 10.
The pay increase—a $5 million impact—is part of a comprehensive plan by Principal Chief Bill John Baker, Tribal Council and health administrators to improve quality and access to tribally operated health facilities. New and expanded Cherokee Nation health centers are also in the works.
“I am committed to providing quality health care services to Cherokee Nation citizens,” Principal Chief Bill John Baker said. “That starts with hiring and retaining talented health care providers. It has been proven that Native people respond better when our health care needs are in the hands of Native physicians, Native nurses and other health care professionals who understand our culture and values.”
Connie Davis, executive director for health services, said it had been several years since the tribe had conducted an evaluation of its health provider compensation to gauge whether it was competitive.
An internal committee recently reviewed Cherokee Nation salaries against other tribes and sources, including the Oklahoma Hospital Association and Merritt Hawkins & Associates, and found an adjustment was needed.
“We are committed to our providers and want the highest quality care for our citizens. This is a step to improve our efforts,” Davis said. “More than 200 contracts will need to be modified to reflect the higher earnings, and our goal is to implement as many as we can by February 10.”
The Cherokee Nation’s Tribal Council was not required to vote on the salary increase. However, during a January 14 committee meeting, members approved a vote of confidence for the health professional salary increases.
Tribal Council Member Dick Lay, District 4 representative from Ochelata, praised the pay adjustment.
“I am proud to have worked on bringing talented health care professionals to the Cherokee Nation system. However, to retain those hires, we must remain competitive in salary or lose our staff to the open market,” Lay said. “Finding the right candidate to hire is critical, but retaining that person is equally as important. With the pay adjustment, we took the first step in securing our health care team for the long term.”
The salary increase will come from the health division’s operating budget.