W.W. Hastings Hospital
Over the past three years, we have worked diligently to improve the overall quality of health care for Cherokees. Providing world-class health care in a timely manner has been our priority from the day I took the oath of office, and today we take another giant leap in serving that level of care to our citizens.
We were notified this week that Cherokee Nation was selected for the Joint Venture Construction Program with the Indian Health Service. Under the program, tribes that build health care infrastructure can receive federal funding for decades to assist with staffing and operations. This means our new hospital campus at W.W. Hastings in Tahlequah will receive an additional $20 to $30 million per year for at least 20 years, and quite possibly many more decades beyond that.
A new state-of-the-art facility in Tahlequah is now closer than ever before and will be among the finest health care facilities in all of Indian Country. The additional $20 to $30 million will support our citizens and all American Indians who seek quality care, by funding more doctors and more equipment and providing more services than ever. Under the partnership, IHS will pay the salaries of our talented health care providers, increasing the size of our medical staff faster than would have been possible otherwise. Construction should begin very soon.
Principal Chief Bill John Baker
This partnership with IHS will improve the health outcomes of Cherokees for the next two to three generations and beyond. Thanks to this program, our grandchildren and even their grandchildren will be healthier and happier than we could have ever imagined just a few years ago.
The Cherokee Nation is the largest tribal health care system in the country. We service more than a million patient visits annually and have more than 130,000 active charts. That’s quite a strain for any health system, and has been a strain on W.W. Hastings in particular. Built 30 years ago to serve 65,000 outpatient visits each year, Hastings now serves more than 400,000 outpatient visits annually. To put that in perspective, the current size of Hastings is one-third of the size needed to adequately serve our population. It’s not difficult to see that it is a health system in danger of cracking if something isn’t done right away. We saw that, and we took action.
The door was shut tight on this IHS Joint Venture program just a few years ago, and it did not appear as though it would be reopened. But our Cherokee Nation Government Relations and Health Services groups lobbied IHS and congressional leaders to open the process and let us prove that we could be good partners in providing the best health care possible to Native Americans in our area. I testified before Congress, pleading with them to give us this opportunity. We met with leaders on Capitol Hill for two years, and our hard work paid off.
The Joint Venture program was reopened for all tribes to apply, and our staff here at Cherokee Nation worked diligently to ensure our application was the most viable and successful plan of action. I cannot underscore enough how important this team’s hard work was in making this day a reality, and I’m so grateful to the congressional leaders who signed on to give us a shot at this partnership. After all the dust settled from two years of phone calls, visits, congressional testimony and so much work on the ground, we learned that our application was selected in the top three from a pool of 37 applicant tribes. We were over the moon.
I believe IHS saw that we had already committed $100 million from tribal casino profits to construct this health facility and other clinics, and they knew we were serious about rebuilding our aging health care infrastructure. I believe they saw Cherokee Nation as a good bet, putting our money where our mouth is. All the hard work was worth every moment, to improve the lives of our fellow Cherokees.
It’s a great time to be Cherokee, and we have much to be proud of. We’re experiencing a true renaissance in the Cherokee Nation, ushering in an era of sweeping changes in health care and making decisions that will have a ripple effect for generations to come. It truly doesn’t get better than this.
God bless all of you, and God bless the Cherokee Nation.