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Cherokee Nation studies Hastings management

BY JAMI MURPHY
Senior Reporter – @cp_jmurphy
01/16/2008 10:58 AM
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – Cherokee Nation and W.W. Hastings Indian Hospital officials announced in January the tribe’s preliminary study to determine if it should manage some or all of the hospital’s services, currently operated by the U.S. Department of Interior’s Indian Health Service. Ed McLemore, the hospital’s CEO, and Melissa Gower, CN Health Services group leader, informed hospital officials about the study on Jan. 11. The study should be completed no later than June 1, and if tribal leaders decide to assume management, it would fall under the CN administration as part of a self-governance effort by Oct. 1. Following the announcement, Principal Chief Chad Smith sent a letter to CN employees stating that improved health care and funding were major reasons for the study. “The reasons for considering this plan are simple: better health services for our citizens and more federal funding for health services in northeastern Oklahoma,” his letter states. Smith said assuming operation of the hospital would mean more federal funding because current dollars available for patient care is limited to federal funding and third party resources. He said CN would provide additional tribal dollars with tribal shares from the Indian Health Service Oklahoma City Area Office and IHS headquarters and grant monies. “These resources could bring an additional several million dollars a year into the health services at W.W. Hastings,” his letter states. Mike Miller, CN Communications officer, said the hospital has a federal budget of $25 million. Smith said the plan is also being considered to eliminate bureaucracy. He said other tribes operate some or all of the services at Indian hospitals, and by doing so it eliminates patient confusion and allows more access to health care. He said part of the comprehensive health care system includes patients receiving better care when Hastings doctors and tribal clinic doctors have the ability to share information and work together. Smith also stressed that patient eligibility requirements would not change during the study or if the tribe decides to take over the facility. According to the IHS Web site, the common standard applied for IHS health services eligibility is that patients are enrolled citizens of a federally recognized tribe. McLemore said he acknowledges that some people won’t like the switch if it happens, but thinks it could lead to better health care for area Indians. “In discussing things with CN you get a range of opinions and some folks don’t think it’s a good idea,” he said. “But I have worked with CN Health leadership and CN elected leadership for almost five years now, and I have found them to be responsive to the health care needs of Cherokee citizens. I think this will help the care of our patients and the responsiveness we have to those patients.” McLemore said some employees are worried about their jobs. However, he said he wants them to focus on the advantages available if CN does assume management. “We have assurances that if CN does get to a decision point that they would like to assume management responsibility for the hospital, they would like to have all the employees transition over to the CN,” he said. “I don’t think CN would indicate to us in one respect and intend for everyone to transition and then change their mind. I hope that folks take a close look at the advantages to be gained from this transition.” Smith’s letter states he acknowledges the employees’ concerns and that the tribe would offer options to current employees. “If the Nation assumes services at Hastings, every employee at Hastings will be asked to stay and will be given the option to choose for themselves whether to become tribal employees or remain federal employees,” his letter states. Smith said through the self-governance compacting process, the CN is able to maintain memorandums of agreements for commissioned officers and inter-personnel agreements for civil service employees. These agreements would allow hospital employees to retain their current employment status and compensation packages with IHS and execute either an MOA or IPA with the tribe. A Hastings employee could also convert to a CN employee with the employee benefit package offered to all CN employees, as well as protections through the CN Constitution. As part of the study, the tribe sent a letter to the IHS regarding the study. Also, tribal officials said budget information would be sent to the Oklahoma City-area IHS office to clarify the transition, but that no program or budget-related changes would occur until a decision is made. Under the Indian Self-Determination and Education Assistance Act, the tribe is allowed to assume operation of the hospital. But before CN can do that, the issue must pass the Tribal Council’s Health Committee and full council.
About the Author
Reporter

Jami Murphy graduated from Locust Grove High School in 2000. She received her bachelor’s degree in mass communications in 2006 from Northeastern State University and began working at the Cherokee Phoenix in 2007.

She said the Cherokee Phoenix has allowed her the opportunity to share valuable information with the Cherokee people on a daily basis. 

Jami married Michael Murphy in 2014. They have two sons, Caden and Austin. Together they have four children, including Johnny and Chase. They also have two grandchildren, Bentley and Baylea. 

She is a Cherokee Nation citizen and said working for the Cherokee Phoenix has meant a great deal to her. 

“My great-great-great-great grandfather, John Leaf Springston, worked for the paper long ago. It’s like coming full circle. I’ve learned so much about myself, the Cherokee people and I’ve enjoyed every minute of it.”

Jami is a member of the Native American Journalists Association, and Investigative Reporters and Editors. You can follow her on Twitter @jamilynnmurphy or on Facebook at www.facebook.com/jamimurphy2014.
jami-murphy@cherokee.org • 918-453-5560
Reporter Jami Murphy graduated from Locust Grove High School in 2000. She received her bachelor’s degree in mass communications in 2006 from Northeastern State University and began working at the Cherokee Phoenix in 2007. She said the Cherokee Phoenix has allowed her the opportunity to share valuable information with the Cherokee people on a daily basis. Jami married Michael Murphy in 2014. They have two sons, Caden and Austin. Together they have four children, including Johnny and Chase. They also have two grandchildren, Bentley and Baylea. She is a Cherokee Nation citizen and said working for the Cherokee Phoenix has meant a great deal to her. “My great-great-great-great grandfather, John Leaf Springston, worked for the paper long ago. It’s like coming full circle. I’ve learned so much about myself, the Cherokee people and I’ve enjoyed every minute of it.” Jami is a member of the Native American Journalists Association, and Investigative Reporters and Editors. You can follow her on Twitter @jamilynnmurphy or on Facebook at www.facebook.com/jamimurphy2014.

News

BY STAFF REPORTS
05/24/2016 12:30 PM
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – On May 27, Cherokee Nation officials will honor Cherokee warriors who lost their lives while serving in the armed services with a wreath-laying ceremony at the Cherokee Warrior Memorial. The ceremony will take place at 3 p.m. next to the tribe’s Veterans Center and will include the raising of the flags, a performance by the Cherokee National Youth Choir and remarks by Principal Chief Bill John Baker and Deputy Chief S. Joe Crittenden. After the ceremony, there will be a reception at the Veterans Center located at 17675 S. Muskogee Ave. For more information, call 918-772-4166.
BY WILL CHAVEZ
Senior Reporter – @cp_wchavez
05/24/2016 08:45 AM
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – A 34,000-square-foot expansion that will provide 150 offices and space for two courtrooms at the Tribal Complex is on pace to be completed next spring. The expansion is being built on the complex’s west end as a second story. The W.W. Keeler Complex opened in 1979 and was last renovated in 1992. In 1994, an addition was made to the west side that was meant to have a second story, but funding was not available to add it. Along with the second story, plans include placing a cover on the roof of the rest of the complex for uniformity. The cover would also protect the complex’s roof and heating and cooling system. A more efficient boiler-chiller system will be installed to replace an inefficient air system. A boiler- chiller system uses water instead of air to heat and cool a structure. Compared with air, water is a more space- efficient method of transferring heat and cold around a building, and hot and cold air will be more evenly distributed throughout the building. “Mankiller (the 1994 addition) was designed for a second story. Keeler (the original building) was not, so we’ll go up several feet for more dead airspace, and then we’ll have a pitched roof over the rest of it, which will modernize it and it’s going to take care of all of our roofing problems (leaks),” Principal Chief Bill John Baker said. “This building is over 40 years old. It’s never had a new roof. It’s been patched ever since I can remember. One of the first things I wanted to do was get a new roof on this thing so we could protect our asset.” He said along with protecting assets, the pitched roof would lower utility bills and raise the building’s elevation so it looks more appealing. Baker said he’s been told the second story’s interior would be complete in December and the entire addition should be done in March. “They knew it was going to take a better part of a year to do this project, but when you’re working around programs, serving people each and every day and trying to keep access to all of the programs it just takes a little longer,” he said. A canopy will be built over the complex’s main entry to shelter people. Also, a courtyard will house two elevators to provide second-floor access. Three elevators will be installed to service the second story. Baker said including the tribe’s courts in the addition would save $30 million because a new building for the courts would not have to be constructed. Baker said the two courtrooms and supporting offices take up about half of the second-story expansion. “It gives them the square footage they (court officials) want. It gives them the design they want. It gives them the opportunity to be here on trust land at the complex. It will give better access to our courts by some of our programs. It will bring all three branches of government much closer together physically but still with separation,” he said. The design for the District and Supreme courts allows parties on opposing sides to enter the area from opposite elevators. “The architects and engineers that are experts in courthouses apparently have been able to do everything that they (court officials) were wanting done. So they’ve got two courtrooms. They’ve got waiting rooms for witnesses. They’ve got basically everything they dreamed they needed.” The larger courtroom will have 110 to 120 seats and seating for plaintiffs, defendants and a jury. The smaller courtroom will seat 24. Baker said there would be twice as much space as is available now in the Supreme Court. As for programs or departments that would occupy the rest of the space, Baker said it’s likely Child Support Enforcement and some or all components of Indian Child Welfare would occupy offices next to the courts because they interact with the courts on a regular basis. He said further discussions would be needed to make a final determination. Also, Baker said he anticipates the additional office space would save the CN “hundreds of thousands” of dollars annually because it would not need to rent as much office space in Tahlequah, and funding from office space rented in the complex by programs and departments would stay within the CN. Deputy Chief S. Joe Crittenden said he began working for the tribe as a laborer varnishing the tribe’s motel in the late 1960s and has seen much growth over the years. “There’s been lots of improvement over the years, and right now we’re in the midst of unparalleled growth in the Cherokee Nation. I’m glad I’ve got to hang around and see the good things happening,” he said.
BY LENZY KREHBIEL-BURTON
Special Correspondent
05/23/2016 10:02 AM
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – A Cherokee Nation employee’s constructive discharge lawsuit has raised the question of whether tribal tipsters could be subject to retribution. Citing the tribe’s Public Integrity and Whistleblower Protection Act of 2004, former Wildland Firefighter Coordinator David Comingdeer filed litigation with the tribe’s District Court against the CN, Career Services Executive Director Diane Kelley and three unnamed supervisors in April claiming he was the victim of retaliation after telling employees the tribe was about to lose a grant from the U.S. Forest Service because of non-compliance with the award’s terms. Comingdeer’s job, along with those of several other firefighters, was funded via the federal grant, the lawsuit states. According to the complaint, Comingdeer was suspended without pay twice and barred from the Tribal Complex after notifying tribal officials associated with the grant about the situation, including the Attorney General’s Office, Human Resources and Career Services. He was also subject to disciplinary action after posting about the situation on social media, according to the lawsuit. After the grant was terminated, Comingdeer was transferred to special projects officer, with a job description that makes no mention of firefighting, and placed on administrative leave, the lawsuit states. According to CN Communications, Comingdeer is still employed at the CN but could not provide any other details because of personnel policy and CN law. Speaking in general terms, CN spokeswoman Amanda Clinton said that a CN employee is not allowed in his or her workspace while on administrative leave. However, as tribal citizens entitled to services, they are not barred from the complex or other CN properties unless they have exhibited criminal behavior. In the Nation’s response to the lawsuit, Senior Assistant Attorney General Chrissi Nimmo argued that the law cited by Comingdeer and his attorney, the Public Integrity and Whistleblower Protection Act of 2004, was effectively repealed almost four years ago when the Tribal Council approved a new ethics law in October 2012, thus eliminating the waiver of sovereign immunity that came with it. The CN Ethics Act of 2012, which replaced Title 28 in the CN Code Annotated, makes no mention of the Whistleblower Protection Act or its provisions. Instead, it largely focuses on conflicts of interest and contracting with relatives of elected officials. A wrongful termination lawsuit that also claimed a violation of the Whistleblower Protection Act was filed in District Court in March 2014 – 18 months after the Tribal Council adopted the Ethics Act of 2012. However, no mention is made in any of that case’s filings whether the Whistleblower Protection Act is still in effect. Citing the pending litigation, Tribal Council Speaker Joe Byrd declined to comment on whether the omission was deliberate. Byrd also declined to say whether the legislative body has any plans to consider reinstating any of the Whistleblower Protection Act’s terms to the CN Code Annotated. Rather than comment on the matter, a CN Communications official deferred to the tribe’s response filed on April 26 with the District Court. As of May 16, a hearing on the case had not been scheduled. A motion is pending to have Nimmo disqualified from trying the case, as she was one of the people Comingdeer initially emailed in October 2015 about the impending grant loss.
BY STAFF REPORTS
05/23/2016 09:52 AM
LOS ANGELES – A new online course called Cherokee Community Organizations and Development is being offered this summer through the University of California Los Angeles Extension. The online course will be from June 30 through Sept. 8 and will be in conjunction with the Tribal Learning Community Educational Exchange. It is open to both students and community members, and is available for three unites of transferable college credit through UCLA Extension. According to a class flier, all work will be done online except a bi-weekly video conference on Wednesdays at 5:30 p.m. To register for the class visit <a href="https://www.uclaextension.edu/pages/Course.aspx?reg=266571&qe=true" target="_blank">https://www.uclaextension.edu/pages/Course.aspx?reg=266571&qe=true</a>.
BY STAFF REPORTS
05/20/2016 01:45 PM
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – The United Keetoowah Band of Cherokee Indians will host the Keetoowah Cherokee Football and Sports Skills Camp from 8 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. on June 22. The camp will be at the UKB Celebration Grounds on West Willis Road. Boys and girls ages 8-18 are able to register for the free camp. To sign up for the camp, call Sammy Still at 918-431-1818, ext. 156 or email <a href="mailto: sstill@unitedkeetoowahband.org">sstill@unitedkeetoowahband.org</a>.
BY STAFF REPORTS
05/19/2016 05:00 PM
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – The Tribal Council on May 16 approved submitting more than 800 acres of tribal land to the Bureau of Indian Affairs to be placed into trust status. The 809.15 acres are located in Adair, Cherokee, Craig, Delaware, Nowata and Washington counties and includes land on which four of the tribe’s health centers are built. Tracts of land being requested for trust status were on the Nation’s priority list to be submitted to the BIA in an effort to help the federal government reach their trust goal in 2016. “Placing land into trust status is an assertion of our tribe’s sovereignty,” Tribal Councilor Joe Byrd said. “Trust status grants our tribe full control of our land and its uses. With more land potentially being placed into trust status, we can pursue more housing for our citizens or create more jobs for our citizens through potential economic opportunities.” The CN already has more than 61,000 acres of land in trust status. The next Tribal Council meeting is scheduled for 6 p.m. on June 13 at the W.W. Keeler Complex.