Rendering of the entrance of the new 469,000-square-foot outpatient health center to be built on the W.W. Hastings campus in Tahlequah, Oklahoma.
Published February 18, 2017
TAHLEQUAH — After several years of planning and negotiation with the federal government, the Cherokee Nation officially begins construction on the tribe’s new 469,000-square-foot health facility. Hundreds turned out for a groundbreaking ceremony on Friday, including representatives from state, federal and tribal governments.
When completed in 2019, it will be the largest health center of any tribe in the country. The new outpatient and primary care facility is being built next to the existing W.W. Hastings Hospital in Tahlequah.
The four-story facility will feature 180 exam rooms; access to an MRI machine; 10 new cardiac, lung and kidney specialists, and, for the first time ever, an ambulatory surgery center.
“This is a monumental day for the Cherokee Nation, and within just a couple of years, this state-of-the-art facility will be transformative in the lives of our citizens in northeast Oklahoma,” said Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Bill John Baker. “The Cherokee Nation has broken barriers in health care throughout Indian Country for years, and with the addition of the new facility and new services that will come with this facility, we will be pioneers in health care recognized throughout the entire nation.”
The facility is the outcome of the largest IHS-joint venture agreement ever between a tribe and the federal government. The Cherokee Nation is paying for the $200 million construction of the health center, while Indian Health Service has agreed to pay an estimated $80 million or more per year for at least 20 years for staffing and operation costs.
Chief Baker testified before a congressional subcommittee in Washington, D.C., in 2014, advocating for the reopening of the joint venture application process so tribes could invest in health care infrastructure without straining the finances of the federal government. In 2015, Cherokee Nation was among few tribes selected for joint venture projects.
When W.W. Hastings Hospital was built in Tahlequah in 1986, it was built for 100,000 patient visits per year. In 2016, Hastings saw nearly 400,000 patient visits and had to refer many patients out of the system for specialty services.
“We are in dire need of an additional building on campus, since our current Hastings facility sees four times as many annual visits as it was constructed to host,” said Cherokee Nation Secretary of State Chuck Hoskin Jr. “After more than 30 years of utilizing and maximizing that space, it’s fulfilling to know that once complete it will be a major advancement in our ability to deliver the kinds of health care services our people want and deserve.”
The new facility will feature five surgical suites and two endoscopy suites inside its ambulatory surgical center. It will house a specialty clinic and feature 33 dental chairs, six eye exam rooms, three audiology testing booths and diagnostic imagining.
It also expands space for several other services currently offered such as rehabilitation services, behavioral health, a wellness center and more.
“This top-rate facility will allow us to offer a level of health care and increased access to services in northeastern Oklahoma that weren’t even thought possible before,” said Cherokee Nation Health Services Executive Director Connie Davis. “On behalf of the Cherokee Nation Health Services staff, I thank Chief Baker, the Tribal Council and Cherokee Nation Businesses for giving us the opportunity to deliver first-class health care to our patients.”
In 2013, the tribe pledged for the first time to use $100 million from Cherokee Nation Businesses’ casino profits to improve the Cherokee Nation’s health care infrastructure. The funds expanded the Stilwell and Sallisaw health centers, built new health centers in Ochelata and Jay, and will be used for the new outpatient facility at Hastings. The original W.W. Hastings building will serve as the tribe’s in-patient hospital.
“The Cherokee Nation has never been more prosperous in its history, and with that prosperity we have invested in services that are a top priority for our people,” said Cherokee Nation Tribal Council Speaker Joe Byrd. “That effort is evident in this new, state-of-the-art health facility. Our government and business officials have been diligent in managing and growing our resources, and our citizens today and future generations will reap the benefits of the work done by those officials.”
Childers Architects and HKS Architects are designing the LEED-certified facility, with Flintco serving as the construction manager while teaming with Cooper Construction. About 350 construction jobs and more than 850 new health jobs over time will be created from the project.