Cherokee Nation administration officials, Tribal Councilors and AMO Salina Health Center employees gather April 28 for the opening of the tribe’s dental clinic in Salina, Okla. JAMI CUSTER/CHEROKEE PHOENIX

Dental clinic offers shorter travel for citizens

Stefan Hacker, Cherokee Nation dental director, speaks during the April 28 opening ceremony of the tribe’s dental clinic in Salina, Okla. JAMI CUSTER/CHEROKEE PHOENIX Melissa Gower, Cherokee Nation Health Services group leader, speaks at an April 28 ceremony opening the tribe’s dental clinic in Salina, Okla. JAMI CUSTER/CHEROKEE PHOENIX
Stefan Hacker, Cherokee Nation dental director, speaks during the April 28 opening ceremony of the tribe’s dental clinic in Salina, Okla. JAMI CUSTER/CHEROKEE PHOENIX
Reporter – @cp_jmurphy
05/09/2011 06:47 AM
SALINA, Okla. – The Cherokee Nation celebrated the opening of its new dental clinic April 28 at AMO Health Center. The clinic will allow patients living in the area to receive dental care without having to travel long distances.

CN citizen Billie Ann Dry said she lives approximately 8-1/2 miles east of Salina and having the new clinic would help her family battle rising gas prices.

“It’s just a 15 minute drive from the house to here (AMO Health Center),” she said.

Dry said before the clinic, she and family members traveled to W.W. Hastings Hospital in Tahlequah for dental care.

“It was an hour’s drive over there,” she said.

According to CN Communications, the new facility brings additional staff and features eight patient chairs, electronic records and digital radiology for x-rays. Also, the recent construction made space for administrative offices, behavioral health services and a community room.

Stefan Hacker, CN dental director, said the grand opening of the clinic and community center has “definitely been a project we’ve been working on for a long period of time and it’s nice to see it come to fruition.”

Allen Summerlin, dental clinic supervisor and dentist, said his job would consist of managing the staff of assistants, hygienists and dentists, as well as performing dental services.

“At the Salina dental clinic, services will include exams, cleanings, operative treatment such as fillings, root canals, extractions and denture care as well,” he said.

He added that patients seeking dental care should call for an appointment, but if they have an emergency they can be seen as a walk-in.

“Walk-ins are available…basically what we are going to try to do is accommodate patients throughout the day,” he said. “We don’t want to put a time limit on it, but you know, we’re here to provide a service and we’re going to do our best to do that.”

The clinic has three dentists, a hygienist, eight assistants, one supervisor and two clerical positions.

The AMO Salina Health Center opened in 1996. William Smoke, who was a Tribal Councilor when the dental clinic legislation was approved, said the health center was built with a space for a dental clinic.

“Wilma Mankiller was in on plans for the dental clinic when the Salina Clinic was first built. For a while it was empty. There wasn’t anything but gravel in there on the floor. We tried back then (to get the dental clinic), but we never could get it,” he said.

He said the health center opening helped a lot of people in the area and that the dental clinic would build on that.

“A lot people get help down there. My sister goes there and plans to get her teeth worked on there. There’s a lot of people that can’t make it to Tahlequah for dental, so it’s good for the whole area,” he said.

According to the tribe, the AMO Salina Health Center had nearly 58,000 visits and that the dental clinics throughout the CN health system had more than 45,000 patient visits this past year. • 918-453-5560
About the Author

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 • 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


Reporter – @cp_sguthrie
02/11/2016 04:30 PM
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – With New Year’s gone, many people are following up on resolutions to get healthy, and some are going to the Cherokee Nation’s Male Seminary Recreation Center to do so. MSRC Primary Prevention Projects Supervisor Nick Kirk, who is also a fitness trainer, said for gym newcomers, he and his fellow trainers are there to help them learn how to correctly exercise. “We have a lot of technique-based moves that we have to teach,” he said. “We start them on the basics, how to squat, how to do a proper push-up, how to just get them moving a little bit to just kind of ease (them) from the overwhelming side of it. We want to make sure that we nail the basics first.” He said it’s important to exercise frequently to maintain longevity and strength as we get older. To help do that the gym offers classes such as spin, Zumba and boot camps. “Boot camp classes is a lot of cross-training,” he said. “You’re doing various, different types of movements. It’s something different each day. You could be running one day, but doing minimal exercises. There’s probably over 20 moves that we teach and incorporate here for our classes.” Kirk said the MSRC offers five boot camps, with one beginner class. Regular boot camps take place at 5 a.m., 9 a.m., 12 p.m. and 5:20 p.m., Monday through Friday. The beginner class is at 6:30 p.m. on Monday and Wednesday. Kirk said most early classes average about 25 people, but during his class he often sees 30 people. He also sees various age groups participating in the boot camps. “If you come to the 9 o’clock (a.m.) class it’s more of an older population. There’s a few younger ones but typically it’s probably 40s to 60s, and I think our oldest member is 72. That’s the most diverse class,” he said. “Noon is probably more of the people in college and people that are working steady that have to come during their lunch break. Morning classes are kind of a combination. And then the 5:20 p.m. is kind of a combination of it all.” Kirk said when it comes to his class he knows many participants on a first-name basis, and when new people join he helps them learn the basics before they get to harder exercises. “You kind of have to introduce the movements and kind of start them down on a very basic movement list,” he said. Kirk said when it comes to shedding weight his cousin is a “success” story thanks to MSRC classes. “He started at 315 pounds and now he weighs, I think, 185. He’s in here all the time. He’s had a huge success with classes and stuff,” he said. “There’s just a handful of people that we could talk about that have seen benefits from our classes and kind of gravitate toward different trainers and our regimen that we do here.” He said a good way to maintain weight loss is regularly going to the gym. “Just keep coming back,” he said. “Obviously motivation plays a big part of that so they come here and they rely on us. We’re the ones that kind of give them that motivation to keep going and keep pushing.” Kirk said exercising is important for Native Americans because of high diabetes rates. “That’s just how it’s always been with Cherokee Nation citizens,” he said. “It’s important to keep that in check by regulating that. It’s (type 2 diabetes) very avoidable by exercising, but a lot of people don’t know how to exercise so they need to come and ask for advice and help and that’s what we are.” Kirk said he got involved with exercising when he was in the seventh grade. His wanting to learn more about exercise and the body eventually led him to a master’s degree in health and kinesiology. “After that I just started wanting to know more about the science behind it and trying to educate myself more on the movements and how to eat properly,” he said. CN citizen Walter Pigeon said Kirk’s boot camps are perfect for him. “It’s just a really intense boot camp. For me, that’s what I like, is a high-intensity workout, basically everything that Nick puts us through.” Pigeon said he’s attended the gym for about two years and has seen significant fitness improvements. “I’ve been here for two years and my fitness is awesome,” he said. “Not bragging on myself, bragging on the staff. All the equipment we have here is just awesome. You have a variety, not just boot camp, but the whole gym. The experience is awesome for anyone.” The MSRC also has treadmills, stationary bikes, elliptical trainers and other exercise machines. There is also a free weight room, resistance room, basketball court, outside track and personal trainers. The MSRC is open from 5:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 5:30 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Friday and 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday. Membership is free for CN citizens and employees and their immediate families. The center also offers child watch from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. Monday through Friday, 4 p.m. to 9 p.m. on Monday through Thursday and 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. on Friday. For more information, call 918-453-5496 or visit <a href="" target="_blank"></a>.
02/09/2016 10:30 AM
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – The Cherokee Nation and the Oklahoma Blood Institute is teaming up to invite area residents to the Blood Donor Challenge on Feb. 18. Those interested in donating can do so from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the tribe’s ballroom behind the Restaurant of the Cherokees. Those who donate have the option to receive a “Blood Donor Challenge” T-shirt. If a blood donor wishes to not take the T-shirt the OBI can in turn make a contribution to the Global Blood Fund, which is a charity that provides supplies and equipment for blood centers in the world’s poorest countries. According to an OBI press release, the OBI relies on donations from an average of 1,000 donors each day to meet the needs of patients in the 154 Oklahoma hospitals it exclusively serves. Donating blood takes approximately an hour. Photo identification is required to donate at OBI blood drives. Participants must be 16 years old or older to donate. Participants who are 16 years old must provide a signed parental permission form and weigh 125 pounds or more to donate. Those who are 17 years old must weigh 125 pounds or more, and those 18 and older must weigh 110 pounds or more to donate.
Special Correspondent
02/04/2016 02:00 PM
JAY, Okla. – It is estimated that most visits to Cherokee Nation’s medical clinics are diabetic related, a tribal health official said. In 2013, Principal Chief Bill John Baker promised to invest $100 million of casino profits to better the health care and the lives of the Cherokee people. When the initiative was launched Baker said, “Our financial success belongs to the Cherokee people.” The heath care of CN citizens was and still remains a top priority. “There have been many medical success stories,” said Connie Davis, executive director of Health Services, referring to the $100 million initiative. Diabetic care was just one of the many medical conditions problems CN officials wanted to address with the health initiative, she said. “Over 50 percent of the health care visits to our clinics is diabetic related,” Davis said. National data states diabetes affects 25.8 million people, more than 8 percent of the country’s population. And of that number, 7 million people are undiagnosed. It is the seventh-leading cause of death for individuals in the United States, according to national data. “The tribe’s care for diabetic and the A1C program exceeds national averages,” Davis said. The A1C test measures the amount of glucose in a person’s blood over three months. The higher the number means the person’s diabetes is out of control. An A1C level of 14 percent means the estimated average blood sugar level is around 355. Most diabetic patients strive for an AIC number of 6, an estimated blood sugar level of around 126. The tribe is working to beat the national average of 6, Davis said. The tribe also collaborated with the University of Oklahoma and the Center for Disease Control and Prevention to eradicate Hepatitis C within the tribe, Davis said. “No one in the United States is doing this,” she said. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Hepatitis C is a blood-borne virus that affects the liver. Most people become infected with the virus by sharing needles or other equipment to inject drugs. For some people, it is a short-term illness but for 70 to 85 percent of infected people, it becomes a long-term, chronic infection. There is no vaccine for Hepatitis C, according to data released by the CDC. The tribe has also earmarked a large chunk of the $100 million for buildings. The CN operates a network of eight health centers and one hospital throughout its jurisdiction. “Half of the money went to new clinics and clinic expansions,” Davis said. Some of those improvements included expanding the Wilma Mankiller Health Center in Stilwell and the Redbird Smith Health Center in Sallisaw. Other projects included the construction of a new 28,000-square-foot Cooweescoowee Health Center in Ochelata and the ongoing construction of a new 42,000–square-foot Sam Hider Health Center in Jay. An Indian Health Service Joint Venture Construction program increased the Three Rivers Health Center in Muskogee to more than 100,000 square-feet and is the largest center in the CN health system. Another joint venture with the IHS will build a new 450,000-square-foot medical center in Tahlequah. The new hospital will replace the 30-year-old facility, W.W. Hastings Hospital, which serves more than 400,000 patient visits annually. Hastings averages 4,600 hospital admissions, 13,000 inpatient days, 1,000 newborn admissions and more than 350,000 visits annually, according to the tribe’s website. The tribe also has plans for a partnership with Oklahoma State University to recruit, train and hire Cherokee doctors. The tribe’s other clinics are the Will Rogers Health Center in Nowata, A-Mo Health Center in Salina and the Vinita Health Center, which is the first to offer an on-site Wellness Workout Center. Baker spoke before the U.S. House Interior Appropriation Subcommittee in 2014 about how a joint venture with the CN would benefit many citizens. Innovative programs, such as a joint venture, can help reduce the $2.2 billion health construction backlog, according to his testimony. “The Affordable Care Act has been great for tribes,” Amanda Clinton, CNB Communications and Govern director, said. She added that many tribal citizens have been able to obtain extremely low-cost insurance under the Affordable Care Act, some for just pennies on the dollar. “Many of these patients never had insurance prior to the Affordable Care Act.” Most CN health centers offer medical, dental, lab, radiology, public health, WIC, nutrition, contract health, pharmacy, behavioral health, optometry, community health service and mammography. The Jack Brown Center in Tahlequah serves CN citizens who may be struggling with an alcohol or drug dependency.
02/03/2016 02:00 PM
STILWELL, Okla. – A carved maple tree statue titled “Perseverance” designed by five Cherokee artists was unveiled and dedicated on Jan. 24 in the lobby of the Wilma P. Mankiller Health Center. The Cherokee Nation commissioned the piece to enhance the entrance of the 28,000-square-foot Mankiller Health Center addition that opened in 2015. “We have a new world-class health care facility in Stilwell that is serving the needs of the Cherokee people, in the spirit of the way Chief Mankiller served our tribal nation. Local Cherokee artisans created a beautiful piece commemorating her leadership, and we are proud to showcase this new sculpture as it welcomes future patrons and visitors into the clinic’s lobby,” Principal Chief Bill John Baker said. “It represents the strength and courage of the Cherokee people.” The nearly 12-foot tall statue is adorned with three turtles exceeding boundaries and expectations by climbing a tree, representing the Cherokee people. The turtles represent striving toward the goals and ideals set by Cherokee ancestors. Stones at the base of the statue represent the difficult paths that the ancestors walked. The statue represents principles of the Cherokee people and former Principal Chief Mankiller: goals of community, prosperity and working together. At the top of the statue sits a pearl-inlaid butterfly, representing Mankiller, who lived in the Rocky Mountain community near Stilwell, and her hopes for the bright future of the Cherokee people. Mankiller served as principal chief from 1985-95. She died on April 6, 2010, at her Adair County home in Oklahoma at age 64. A group of Cherokee artists – Devon Tidwell-Isaacs, Daniel Flynn, Roger Cain, Shawna Cain and Reuben Cain – which goes by Stilwell I.T., said the statue symbolizes the Cherokee people’s endurance to overcome and ability to prosper. “It is very important that we realize we need to be strong as a community and that while we face a lot of hardships and difficulties and obstacles that we are perseverant and resilient as a people, and this artwork is a testament to those qualities,” Tidwell-Isaacs said. The statue also has a carved quote from Mankiller in the trunk of the tree. It states, “The secret of our success is that we never, never give up.” Wilma P. Mankiller Health Center employees donated rocks from local communities for the base of the statue. The maple tree used for the statue is from Asheville, North Carolina, part of the Cherokee people’s original homeland.
Reporter – @cp_jmurphy
02/02/2016 04:00 PM
OKTAHA, Okla. – Nine-year-old Cherokee Nation citizen Abby York has a genetic mutation called Glucose Transporter Type 1 Deficiency Syndrome or Glut1 DS that impairs brain metabolism. She was diagnosed with it at age 6, and Allen York, Abby’s father, said that to his knowledge about 1 in 90,000 births develop the disorder. He said his daughter was behind as an infant on meeting all of her developmental milestones. “She was delayed with walking, talking, feeding herself and potty training. When she did start walking she was very unsteady. She had to wear a helmet to protect her from a brain injury due to she would lose her balance and fall all of the time,” Allen said. “She had her first seizure when she was 2 years old. This progressed to her having 20 to 30 absent seizures a day.” After seeing specialists, running blood work, computerized tomography scans and MRIs, nothing could give the Yorks a diagnosis. After three years, Allen said her second pediatric neurologist found a combination of four anti-convulsing medications that stopped the seizures. “We were excited that the seizures had finally stopped, but we were worried about the long-term side effects of her using these medications,” he said. “Our neurologist recommended that we take her to a movement specialist in Fort Worth, Texas. This doctor ran many more tests and we finally got a diagnosis of Glucose Transporter Type 1 Deficiency Syndrome.” By this time Abby was 6 years old. “She was hospitalized in Fort Worth for a week where they ran more tests and started her on the ketogenic diet, which is the only approved treatment at this time for Glut1,” Allen said. Since the deficiency is incurable, diet is the only way to fight the disorder. The diet needs to be a high-fat, moderate-protein and low-carbohydrate one that causes the body to produce and burn ketones for fuel in the absence of glucose, according to <a href="" target="_blank"></a>. “Abby’s life has changed drastically since getting her diagnosis and starting her on the diet. She can read, run and play with her friends. She has been seizure free and off all of the anticonvulsants for almost two years,” Allen said. “She is in her age-appropriate class and is doing pretty well in school. She is an excellent reader, but numbers and logical thinking are a struggle for her. We spend extra time at home working on her problem areas. Even though she still has, and will always have some struggles, this diagnosis has really been a miracle for our family.” According to, Glut1 is the principal transporter of glucose, the primary source of energy, across the blood-brain barrier. If one cannot transport the glucose properly he or she can show signs such as seizures, movement disorders, speech and language disorders and developmental delays. “There are currently a few hundred patients diagnosed worldwide, but experts believe there are thousands more yet to be discovered,” the website states. The Yorks, to raise awareness and improve the lives of other families affected by this disease, host a yearly event in November that includes a 5K, fun run and lunch. “In hopes that others can be diagnosed at an earlier age than our Abby,” he added. “All proceeds from our fundraiser are donated to the Glut1 Deficiency Foundation. This is an all-volunteer foundation made up of parents just wanting to help others.” For more information, email Allen at <a href="mailto:"></a> or visit <a href="" target="_blank"></a>.
Special Correspondent
12/29/2015 08:15 AM
TULSA — Law enforcement officers with the Bureau of Indian Affairs are getting additional tools to help deal with prescription drug abuse in Indian Country. Officials with the BIA, Indian Health Services and the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy announced a memorandum of understanding on Dec. 16 at the Indian Health Resources Center that will allow for the training of BIA officers on how to identify opioid and heroin overdoses and administer an atomized dosage of naloxone. Upon completion of training, officers will be authorized to carry doses of the synthetic drug. If used in time, naloxone can reverse an opioid overdose by counteracting the drug’s depression of the central nervous and respiratory systems, thus allowing the user to breathe normally. The pilot program, which will include Oklahoma-based BIA officers, involves an eight-hour training course. An estimated 230-240 officers are expected to participate in the initial rollout, with the potential for tribal law enforcement officers to be added later on. Officials with the BIA and IHS did not have a concrete timeline for when the training would start in 2016, nor did they have a figure on all of the costs associated with the IHS-funded program. “This is critical in our tribal communities that tend to be more remote and where health care is farther away,” BIA Director Mike Black said. “Our police officers are often the first responders to a scene and many reservations nationwide do not necessarily have immediate access to an around the clock emergency room.” As per the MOU, 91 pharmacies at IHS operated facilities nationwide, including Claremore Indian Hospital and eight other Oklahoma sites, will be authorized to distribute the drug to BIA officers. Pharmacies operated under a tribal self-governance agreement, such as those at the Cherokee Nation’s facilities, are not required to participate in the program. However, Dr. Susan Karol, the chief medical officer for Indian Health Services, said tribally-operated pharmacies would be welcome to participate as well. Cherokee Nation’s Health Department did not respond by deadline as to whether any plans are in place to have its pharmacies participate in the program. According to the Centers for Disease Control, the rate of opioid abuse-related deaths among American Indians and Alaska Natives nationwide has increased almost four-fold since 2009. Data collected by IHS indicates that the rate of drug-related deaths among American Indians and Alaska Natives is almost double that of the general population. Opioid painkillers, such as oxycodone, hydrocodone and hydromorphone, are responsible for three-fourths of all prescription drug overdose deaths. “We know we need a comprehensive response to this,” said Michael Botticelli, the White House’s Director of National Drug Control Policy. “In terms of reducing the overprescribing of prescription drugs, ensuring that treatment is available is critically important. But none of this is sufficient if people die and if we don't save their lives to be able to get them into care and treatment.”