It's full steam ahead for the Cherokee Nation, which committed to a $100 million health care improvement plan that includes the expansion or replacement of four health centers and one hospital. Last spring Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Bill John Baker announced the investment into the tribe’s health care system, funded entirely from casino profits.
Most recently, the tribe broke ground in Jay, Oklahoma, for a 42,000-square-foot health facility that will replace the Cherokee Nation's existing Sam Hider Health Center.
Tribal officials gathered January 27 to mark the start of construction.
“The clinic in Jay was one of the first health centers operated by the Cherokee Nation. It has served the people of this area well for nearly 30 years, but it’s time for an upgrade,” Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Bill John Baker said. “Our citizens in Delaware and nearby counties have received wonderful care but have dealt with cramped conditions for too long. I’m happy that we are finally able to make a meaningful investment in our health system that will impact the lives of so many. It’s long overdue, and our citizens deserve it.”
The tribe opened the Sam Hider Health Center in 1989, making it one of the oldest health centers in the tribe’s system. The existing 26,000-square-foot facility employs nearly 100 people and serviced more than 80,000 patient visits in 2013.
The new 42,000-square-foot health center will be constructed to accommodate a range of health services, including primary care, dental, optometry, radiology, behavioral health, public health nursing, pharmacy with mail order, laboratory, nutrition, WIC, contract health and diabetes care. The tribe is adding physical therapy to its service offering in Jay. The projected cost of construction is $13.5 million.
“Our people will benefit immensely from this new facility. A new health center in Jay allows us to offer better health services to more people,” said Connie Davis, executive director of Cherokee Nation Health Services. “The additional space gives our providers more exam rooms and allows us to expand our health services offerings, while treating our citizens more quickly and professionally.”
The plan includes new health centers in Jay and Ochelata, expansions in Stilwell and Sallisaw, and a new hospital in Tahlequah.
“Improving health care for Cherokees is among my top priorities, and this is just the beginning,” Baker said. “While we hope to complete this expansion of health care infrastructure in the next couple years, we won’t stop there. I pledge to continue finding ways to make the Cherokee people healthier, happier and stronger for many years to come.”
Local Cherokee Nation Tribal Councilors praised the new facility while calling it long overdue.
“I am extremely happy for the Cherokee people. This new clinic will make such a difference in the lives of Cherokees in Delaware County and the surrounding areas,” said Harley Buzzard, Cherokee Nation Tribal Councilor for District 10. “I have been pushing for a new clinic in Jay for years, and I am extremely happy that it is part of the $100 million health construction initiative. Our people have been cramped in the older clinic for too long, so this new facility is a major improvement.”
“We’ve been working very hard alongside Chief Baker to make the dream of expanded health care services a reality,” said Curtis Snell, Cherokee Nation Tribal Councilor for District 9. “It’s been a long and hard fought battle to get to this day, but our hard work is finally paying off. This new clinic will help improve the health of so many Cherokees in this area, and I’m proud to have played a role in making it happen.”
This is the first major investment of casino profits into tribal infrastructure that will have a lasting impact on tribal citizens.
“Our employees are proud to see the returns on their hard work going to benefit their families and neighbors,” said Shawn Slaton, chief executive officer of Cherokee Nation Businesses. “Our businesses were designed to support services to the Cherokee people, and there is no better way than putting it straight into infrastructure that will improve access to quality health care.”
Cherokee Nation Construction Resources, a division of CNB’s environmental and construction portfolio, is managing the construction of the health system expansion.
Cherokee Nation operates the largest tribal health system in the United States, which consists of eight health centers throughout the Cherokee Nation and W.W. Hastings Hospital in Tahlequah.