The Cherokee Nation is adding 28,000 square feet to its Wilma P. Mankiller Health Center. Tribal officials broke ground Friday on a project that nearly doubles the size of the Stilwell, Oklahoma facility.
Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Bill John Baker announced last spring the tribe would take $100 million of its casino profits and invest it in infrastructure that vastly expands the tribe’s health care system.
“Nowhere do we have a larger concentration of Cherokees on a per capita basis than in Adair County, so the expansion of this health center will have an enormous impact on the health of our people,” said Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Bill John Baker. “It’s been nearly 20 years since we opened the Mankiller Health Center, and the patient load has increased dramatically. It’s time to upgrade for our people and make sure Cherokee families in Adair and surrounding counties receive the best health care we can possibly provide.”
The tribe opened Wilma P. Mankiller Health Center in 1995. The existing 36,000-square-foot facility employs nearly 150 people and serviced more than 134,000 patient visits in 2012.
The health center offers a range of health services, including primary care, pediatrics, physical therapy, mammography, dental, optometry, radiology, behavioral health, public health nursing, pharmacy with mail order, laboratory, nutrition, WIC, contract health and diabetes care. The projected cost of construction is $9 million and expected to take a year.
“The expansion of this health center will benefit our providers and patients immensely,” said Connie Davis, executive director of Cherokee Nation Health Services. “The additional space allows us to improve access for our patients and provide care more efficiently and effectively.”
The infrastructure improvement plan includes new health centers in Jay and Ochelata, expansions in Stilwell and Sallisaw, and a new hospital in Tahlequah.
“This is what our businesses were designed to do: improve the lives of Cherokee people,” Baker said. “I pledged to do everything within my power to improve the lives of Cherokee people, and with construction underway on four health centers, that’s exactly what is happening.”
Cherokee Nation Deputy Chief S. Joe Crittenden said the renewed focus on health and improving access is an investment that will benefit all Cherokees.
“The impact of these new health centers, including the Mankiller Health Center, and the advanced services we will now be able to provide will have an impact on Cherokees for generations to come,” said Crittenden. “We can create a healthier tribal nation, increase life expectancy and lower the number of Cherokees suffering from chronic disease.”
Cherokee Nation Tribal Councilors from Adair County joined in the celebration and described the significant need for improved patient access in the area.
“The expansion of the Wilma P. Mankiller Health Center is a momentous endeavor and something that will create a positive ripple effect in the area. New construction jobs will be created during the expansion, and at the same time we are putting a renewed emphasis on health opportunities for Cherokee citizens,” said Cherokee Nation Tribal Councilor Frankie Hargis. “The Cherokee Tribal Council and Chief Baker have made a commitment to give our people world class health care. That is something every Cherokee citizen can take pride in.”
“It is a great day for Cherokee Nation and Cherokee people, and one that Chief Baker and I have worked towards for years. This investment in quality health care will allow us to provide more vital services to more citizens. Improved health care opportunities will have an immediate impact in our community,” said Cherokee Nation Tribal Councilor Jodie Fishinghawk. “More efficient health means not only better health care, but more opportunities to collect third-party revenues, which will in turn allow us to expand services and staff in the future.”
This is the first major investment of casino profits into tribal infrastructure that will have a lasting impact on tribal citizens.
“The employees have embraced this effort because they see their investment of hard work turning into improved health care access for their families,” said Shawn Slaton, chief executive officer of Cherokee Nation Businesses. “Nearly 75 percent of our employees are Cherokee citizens. It is highly likely they know someone who is in need of health services and relies on these health centers.”
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.