- By Chuck Hoskin Jr
Guest Opinion. Cherokee Nation citizens will soon have better access to world-class health care. I recently signed legislation that will invest $440 million into major health care capital improvements. This commitment will ensure our people get the kind of quality health care they deserve for many years ahead.
That funding – a combination of federal American Rescue Plan dollars and third-party insurance revenues – will enable us to build a new, modern hospital on the Cherokee Nation Health Care Campus in Tahlequah, Okla., as well as a new outpatient health center in Salina, Okla.
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These projects are the latest in the dramatic expansion of our Cherokee Nation Health System over the last decade. We must keep investing to ensure Cherokee citizens have the best care to live long and healthy lives.
The new Tahlequah hospital will be a much-needed update from the current W.W. Hastings Hospital, which was initially built in 1984 to serve about 60,000 patient visits per year. Today, Hastings is serving over 500,000 patient visits annually.
The new facility will incorporate the latest concepts in hospital design and planning for what will likely be about a 400,000-square-foot facility. It will grow our number of critical care beds, provide inpatient dialysis, and expand our labor and delivery capabilities. In combination with the Cherokee Nation Outpatient Health Center, the new inpatient hospital tower will add to the world-class surgical and imaging capabilities at the Tahlequah Health Campus.
The current hospital facility will then be repurposed to be the hub of our expanded behavioral health programs. We took a major stride in addressing mental health challenges for our people earlier in the year with the Public Health and Wellness Act, but we must do more. Mental illness, addiction and other behavioral health challenges are robbing our fellow Cherokees of their lives and their futures, so we must take mental health as seriously as physical health.
Over the decades, across different chiefs and different councils, we have made steady progress for the Cherokee people in health care. Today, Cherokee Nation has the largest health care system in all of Indian Country. We have built this system because Cherokees recognize that health care is not a cost on a spreadsheet, it’s an investment that yields great dividends in the health and well-being of our people. Our talented health professionals recognize that the ultimate goal is to ensure both physical and mental wellness for every Cherokee Nation citizen.
We continue to evolve our health care system to meet changing citizen needs and to phase out aged facilities and outdated equipment. The 25-year-old A-mo Health Center in Salina has served us well, but the new $35 million outpatient clinic will better meet the care needs of Salina-area Cherokees for many years to come.
The legislation also enables the tribe to negotiate with Northeastern State University for a donation to its college of optometry. The donation of up to $5 million will support NSU’s construction of a new $33 million facility at its Tahlequah campus. NSU and Cherokee Nation have a longstanding partnership providing optometry services to patients in the tribe’s health system, and this investment will strengthen education for the next generation of these optometrists.
These investments will also create new health care and construction jobs that benefit Cherokee families and communities. Good jobs, excellent health care and strategic investments are why Cherokee Nation is the hub of economic vitality for northeast Oklahoma. With these latest investments, our momentum will only grow.
Chuck Hoskin, Jr. is the principal chief of the Cherokee Nation.
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