he Cherokee Nation signed an agreement with Indian Health Service Wednesday to secure the largest joint venture funding project ever among tribes. The agreement allows for IHS to fund the hospital at an estimated $80 million or more per year. The funding would last a minimum of 20 years, or potentially for the life of the hospital.
IHS is the agency within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services that funds and provides American Indians health care.
The historic agreement opens the door for the Cherokee Nation to pay more than $150 million for the construction of a 450,00- square-foot health center in Tahlequah that will be the largest ever built among tribes across the nation under IHS. In the agreement, IHS will request funding for staffing and operating expenses each year for at least 20 years once the hospital reaches capacity.
“This agreement secured with IHS will be absolutely transformative for the Cherokee Nation and our ability to deliver world-class health care for future generations in northeastern Oklahoma,” Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Bill John Baker said. “IHS saw Cherokee Nation as a good partner to deliver quality care and together we are making the health of Indian Country our top priority. This public-private partnership is going to create both construction and health care jobs and be a significant economic impact in our region.”
Chief Baker, Chief of Staff Chuck Hoskin, Tribal Council Speaker Joe Byrd, Executive Director of Cherokee Nation Health Services Connie Davis, Deputy Director of Health Services Charles Grim, Chief Executive Officer at W.W. Hastings Hospital Brian Hail, IHS Principal Deputy Director Robert G. McSwain and HIS Director of Environmental Health and Engineering Gary Hartz signed the agreement at the IHS headquarters in Maryland.
“For more than two decades, the competitive IHS Joint Venture Construction Program has strengthened partnerships with tribes across the country and ensured that comprehensive, culturally acceptable health services are available and accessible to American Indian and Alaska Native people,” McSwain said. “This new agreement with the Cherokee Nation for the facility in Tahlequah is an important step toward raising the health of our people to the highest level.”
The 450,000-square-foot health center will be an addition on the existing 190,000-square-foot Hastings Hospital campus in Tahlequah.
The renewal of the joint venture program that will allow the Cherokee Nation to build and operate a new facility was made possible thanks to the leadership in Congress who championed the program through the budget process and federal allocations.
“I am extremely proud of the work Chief Baker and the entire Cherokee Nation have put into making this joint venture a reality. Oklahoma has consistently ranked at the bottom of all states when it comes to national health indicators. It is important that local, state, and federal groups and officials take steps that will promote health and wellness across our state,” said Cherokee Nation citizen and U.S. Rep. Markwayne Mullin (R-Okla.). “The health center in Tahlequah will be a very big step, and I applaud the Cherokee Nation and Indian Health Service’s commitment to promoting the health and wellbeing of all individuals.”
Congressman Tom Cole, (R-Okla.), a Chickasaw Nation citizen, said this will benefit Indian Country and all tribes.
“I was delighted to learn about this historic partnership between the Cherokee Nation and the Indian Health Service that will greatly benefit Indian Country for years to come. As a strong supporter of joint ventures like this one and having seen the real benefits of similar facilities, including one built by my own tribe, I believe the future is indeed bright as the Cherokee Nation prepares to improve the health and well-being of tribal citizens by investing in this project,” Rep. Cole said. “I applaud those who worked together to make this incredible vision become reality. Certainly, Oklahoma communities and generations of tribal citizens will be better because of it.”
The new addition will create jobs and expand new specialty services, such as surgeons and endocrinology, which currently are not offered at Hastings, which the tribe has operated since 2008.
“This agreement will provide the Cherokee Nation an opportunity to better meet the demand and needs of our Cherokee Nation citizens and other Native Americans who access our health system,” said Davis, who worked as a nurse in the original Indian Hospital in Tahlequah that was a five-room ward. “I’m so grateful for this partnership with IHS to ensure the future of health for our people and future generations.”
Other services included in the new facility are ambulatory care, podiatry, a WIC program, audiology, dental care, eye care, primary care, specialty care, diagnostic imaging, a laboratory, a pharmacy, rehabilitation services, surgery, behavioral health, health education, public health nursing, public health nutrition and a wellness center.
A groundbreaking for the new addition will be held this spring.
The Cherokee Nation operates the largest tribal health system in the country with more than 1.2 million patient visits per year.