http://www.cherokeephoenix.orgDr. Jeffrey Gastorf
Dr. Jeffrey Gastorf

CN doctor earns A.T. Still Award of Excellence

05/13/2017 10:00 AM
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – The Oklahoma Osteopathic Association recently awarded Cherokee Nation Dr. Jeffrey Gastorf the 2017 A.T. Still Award of Excellence.

It is given to one osteopathic physician statewide in honor of A.T. Still, who was the founder of osteopathy and osteopathic medicine that focuses on total body health and the ability for the body to heal itself.

Gastorf, 41, is a general physician at the Vinita Health Center.

“Dr. Gastorf embodies the teachings of Dr. A.T. Still and seeks out opportunities to share his knowledge with residents and students. His patient-centered approach is the foundation of osteopathic medicine and benefits the lives of his patients,” Kenneth E. Calabrese, president of the Oklahoma Osteopathic Association, said.

Gastorf completed his medical school training at Oklahoma State University and his residency training at Durant Family Medicine Residency.

He is the former director of the Durant Family Medicine Residency Program, where he served for eight years before joining the tribe’s Vinita Health Center in January.

“I wanted to focus more on patient care, and I appreciate that Cherokee Nation is truly concerned about providing care and having resources to help patients,” Gastorf said. “The most rewarding thing is when patients are appreciative of the care they receive and thank you for your help.”

Gastorf also serves on the Graduate Medical Education committee for the Oklahoma Osteopathic Association and previously served as president of the Oklahoma chapter of the American College of Osteopathic Family Physicians.

CN Health Services operates the largest tribally run health system in the country, with more than a million patient visits per year. It consists of eight health centers and W.W. Hastings Hospital in Tahlequah.


News Writer – @cp_bbennett
10/16/2017 04:00 PM
MUSKOGEE, Okla. – The Cherokee Nation’s Three Rivers Health Center and Dillard’s partnered on Oct. 12 to provide a free bra-fitting clinic at the health center as part of a “Fit For the Cure” event by the clothing brand Wacoal. “You’d be surprised at the number of women who have never done this. We have some customers come in who have never had a bra fitting, ever,” Cynthia Acuff, lingerie business manager for Dillard’s in Muskogee, said. “They’ll come in to the store, try on something, then if it looks like it fits then that’s what they go with. And eight out of 10 women are definitely wearing the wrong size.” Acuff has been with the company for more than 30 years and completes trainings twice a year to help women find correct bra fits, which only take 10 to 15 minutes. “We go in and we do a measurement on you and once we do a measurement, then we use a specific bra that’s called our Wacoal fit bra to help determine your actual cup size that you will be needing for that bra,” Acuff said. The event also assisted in highlighting Breast Cancer Awareness Month, which is in October. For every complimentary Wacoal bra fitting Acuff completed $2 was donated to the Susan G. Komen for the Cure organization. An additional $2 donation was possible for every Wacoal or b.tempt’d piece purchased at the fitting. Since 2000, Wacoal has donated more than $4.7 million to help fund breast cancer research and community programs while raising awareness for screenings. Acuff said she helps raise breast cancer awareness because her family has been affected by it. “My grandmother had breast cancer,” she said. “She was a survivor of it. There’s a lot of people who have not survived from it, so if just coming in, that $2 may just be what needs to be done to find the cure for breast cancer.” Acuff sad she can complete about 45 fittings in a five-hour event like the one at the health center. “When they come in, they leave their bra on,” she said. ‘They just have to take their shirt off for us. We do the measurement, then we go out and collect bras that we believe is going to be their size. We will take in three different cup sizes, that way we can see which one is going to fit her better to make sure that the wire is in the right place for her.” She recommended women look for several factors when bra shopping. “You always want to make sure your bra is tacked in the middle, in the center, that way it separates you and then your wire needs to be back past your breastbone,” she said. “We want to make sure that your band does not move up and down because if it does chances are your straps are not going to stay on correctly. If you get the right support, the wire is doing the work. The straps are doing the work. If you are a bigger-size bust, the right bra is going to help you from not having back issues too because you’re going to be letting that bra do the work for you, rather than your back carrying you around.” For those interested in a fitting, Acuff was expected to hold another fitting from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Oct. 18 at Dillard’s located within the Arrowhead Mall in Muskogee. Each of the complimentary fittings and bra purchases will also be eligible for the $2 donation. According to the Komen organization, American Indian and Alaska Native women have lower breast cancer rates than other groups, though it is the second-leading cause of cancer death among them. From 2010-14, American Indian and Alaska Native women saw 82.2 new breast cancer cases per 100,000, compared to 127.7 for Caucasian women and 125.1 for African American women. In the same time period, American Indian and Alaska Native women averaged a morality rate of 10.8 per 100,000 cases, while Caucasian women averaged 21.2 and African American women averaged 29.2 cases. According to the Komen organization, mammography screening rates are also “lower than rates among non-Hispanic white, non-Hispanic black and non-Hispanic Asian women.” For more information, visit <a href="" target="_blank"></a>.
10/11/2017 12:00 PM
OKLAHOMA CITY - Oklahoma City Indian Clinic, a non-profit clinic providing services to American Indians in central Oklahoma, is raising mental health awareness during October. Approximately 1 in 5 adults in the U.S. (43.8 million) or 18.5 percent of adults experiences mental illness in a given year. Mental Health Week is the first week of October and raises awareness about mental health conditions and the importance of good mental health for everyone. Mental health is essential to everyone’s well being, and mental illnesses are common and treatable. Yet, some people experience symptoms of mental illnesses differently and engage in potentially dangerous or risky behaviors to avoid or cover up symptoms of a potential mental health problem. Specific populations of people, like Native Americans, experience mental health concerns at a higher rate than the general population. “It is important to understand early symptoms of mental illness and know when certain behaviors are potential signs of something more,” said Summer Welcher-Duke said behavioral health director of OKCIC. “We need to speak up early and educate people about risky behavior and its connection to mental illness and do so in a compassionate, judgment-free way.” According to the American Psychiatric Association, Native Americans experience serious psychological distress 1.5 times more than the general population, experience PTSD more than twice as often as the general population, and use and abuse alcohol and other drugs at younger ages as well as at higher rates than all other ethnic groups. There is help available for people suffering with mental illness. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration offers information on mental health. People may call 1-877-726-472 to locate treatment services in your area. OKCIC offers counseling to its patients for a wide range of mental health and substance abuse issues through its behavioral health department, which is a multi-faceted department of licensed mental health professionals including a psychiatrist, mentors and prevention activity specialist that addresses the physical as well as the mental, emotional and spiritual needs of the Indian community. “Prevention, early identification, early intervention and integrated services work,” said Robyn Sunday-Allen, CEO of OKCIC. “When we engage in prevention and early identification, we can help reduce the burden of mental illness by identifying symptoms and warning signs early.”
News Writer – @cp_bbennett
10/10/2017 08:15 AM
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – The Cherokee Nation’s Health Services has increased base pay for many physicians in primary care by $35,000 as part of a new compensation package that took effect Oct. 1. Included in the package are quarterly bonuses based upon relative value units or RVUs. The package raises the base-pay threshold for nearly 120 doctors at the tribe’s W.W. Hastings Hospital and nine health centers, according to CN Communications. “Ideally we never want to lose any of our physicians, but we know there are times they leave for larger cities or higher paying jobs just like any other industry. So we hope this move is one that will have a lasting impact,” Health Services Executive Director Connie Davis said. Additionally, all physicians, advanced practitioners and physician’s assistants above the base-pay threshold will receive a 2 percent raise after CNHS compared regional market salaries with information provided by the Medical Group Management Association, according to administration officials. Quarterly RVU bonuses will be awarded to providers who meet the MGMA 25th percentile in service to patients. According to a leading physician search and consulting firm, RVUs calculate the volume of work or effort done by a physician when treating patients. The more complex the visit, the more RVUs a physician earns. For each RVU achieved over the standard, the dollar value of the RVU increases. According to administration, it will now be possible for providers to see a bonus ranging anywhere from $500 to $30,000 each quarter. The amount of the final quarterly bonus is dependent on several varying factors. Bonuses were previously awarded semi-annually, based on a merit of 2.5 percent and not incentivized. Providers will also be eligible for a 3 percent annual merit increase after meeting health compliance standards. The raise’s cost is outlined in a budget modification that increases the IHS Self-Governance Health budget by $3.4 million. The changes come after a year of discussion and an April 21 letter signed by the Health System Provider Compensation Committee asking Health Services officials to increase provider base salaries and incentives to “recruit and retain top quality (health care) providers.” The letter states CN providers are paid $48,000 less annually than the $218,000 base salary outlined in a 2016 physician compensation report and that an increase in base salaries has happened only once in eight years. The letter states lower salaries have led to recruitment difficulties, a loss in providers and increased wait times for patients as remaining providers “experience the undue burden of taking on the additional workload for those many empty positions.” The new contracts are currently being distributed to providers throughout CNHS including compensation committee member Dr. Johnson Gourd, a physician at Three Rivers Health Center in Muskogee. He called the new contracts “a step in the right direction” for providers and would be watching closely to see how bonuses are awarded. Gourd had previously voiced concerns about implementing the RVU-based system due to “inefficiencies” with the electronic health records system, which he said does not allow him “control of all variables” to complete his job efficiently. “That adjustment to getting to those RVU goal numbers will have to come once they’ve implemented it and we see where we’re at in the real world work environment and then we try to make appropriate changes,” he said. “One clinic may have inherent advantages for a provider over others with staff issues or whatever. That I think will work itself out once people are trying to work with that goal and they can identify perhaps the things that are impeding them.” Dr. Katherine Hughes, D.O and Emergency Room director, said she has yet to see a new contract but is “excited” that it is forthcoming. “My hope is that it increases our ability to be able to recruit new physicians coming in and retaining the ones we have.” Hughes has not worked at a facility that uses RVUs, but is “all for anything” to better serve patients. “I think it has the potential to be really good for everybody,” she said. “As a supervisor, I’m all for anything that’s going to make everybody more productive and decrease our wait time for our patients. We were having a hard time recruiting people on the salary and when they’re coming to a small town, you have to overcome that. It was a lot to overcome, but I hope this will help us be able to attract really good people out here to our system and keep them.” Dr. Charles Grim, Health Services deputy executive director, said Health Services employs 250 providers, of which 160 are physicians and mid-level providers. Davis said in a Sept. 11 Health Committee meeting that the Health Services’ turnover rate is 12 percent compared to the nationwide rate of 14 percent. She also said that in the past year Health Services has lost nine full-time physicians, 11 PRNs or “as needed” workers, five advanced practice registered nurses, two physician assistants and one certified registered nurse anesthetist. Records from Cherokee Nation state that in the six-year time frame from of 2012 to 2017, there were 130 providers who separated from CNHS. In that same six-year time frame from 2012 to 2017, there were 159 providers who were hired to CNHS. The jobs included in both these figures include; physicians, physician PRN, physician assistant, physician assistant PRN, certified nurse midwife, certified nurse midwife PRN, certified RN anesthetist, certified RN anesthetist PRN, podiatrist. The number of departures in large measure are doctors who are PRNs, who are temporary by nature. CNHS anticipates losing 6 PRN staff annually through its family practice residency program or as temporary docs working in urgent care. Since 2012 of the 73 PRN, 36 have left due to their residency status ending. Of course, other providers leave for various reasons, including jobs in urban health facilities, family reasons and retirement. According to Indian Health Service, the vacancy rate for IHS was 28 percent, while CNHS vacancy rate for just physicians was 23 percent in 2016. Currently physician vacancy is 17.6 percent and below the previous year. Total provider vacancy rate for CNHS in 2017 is 12.5 percent while the base-pay increase and bonuses come before the projected September 2019 opening of a CN outpatient facility in Tahlequah that is expected to create more than 800 jobs. In the 2012 fiscal year the total budgeted full-time physician was 76 and the number budgeted in the 2017 fiscal year is currently 92. “As we build onto our health system and create new jobs, this compensation plan will have great timing,” Davis said.
10/05/2017 12:00 PM
CATOOSA, Okla. – Sixteen Cherokee Nation nurses were honored Sept. 26 at the state’s Great 100 Nurses awards dinner at the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Tulsa. The national Great 100 Nurses Foundation honors standout nurses for their contributions to health care each year. The state participated in the celebration for the fourth straight year. The winners were chosen based on their contributions to the nursing profession and for serving as role models after being nominated by patients, peers, administrators or their communities. “I’m very humbled to be recognized with such talented and caring individuals,” CN Health Services Executive Director Connie Davis, one of the tribe’s 16 honorees, said. “I’m also very proud of the Cherokee Nation nurses who were also honored. They are the backbone of our health care system and help us provide the first-class level of health care that our citizens expect and deserve.” The 16 CN recipients of the Great 100 Nurses of Oklahoma honored were: • Connie Davis –Health Services administration – Tahlequah, • Kimberly Costilow – formerly W.W. Hastings Hospital – Tahlequah, • Christy Fees – Will Rogers Health Center – Nowata, • Jordan Fielden – W.W. Hastings Hospital – Tahlequah, • Colinda Guthrie – W.W. Hastings Hospital – Tahlequah, • Lindsey Huffman – W.W. Hastings Hospital – Tahlequah, • Rebecca Kidwell – Will Rogers Health Center – Nowata, • Janie Mendenhall – W.W. Hastings Hospital – Tahlequah, • Melinda Moten – Wilma P. Mankiller Health Center – Stilwell, • Lorrie Pinkston – Will Rogers Health Center – Nowata, • Debra Proctor – Cherokee Elder Care – Tahlequah, • Aubrey Richardson – W.W. Hastings Hospital – Tahlequah, • Lindsey Springsteen – W.W. Hastings Hospital – Tahlequah, • Ryan Stilwell – W.W. Hastings Hospital –Tahlequah, • Melissa Whitchurch – Cooweescoowee Health Center – Ochelata, and • Susan Wood – W.W. Hastings Hospital – Tahlequah.
10/04/2017 12:00 PM
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – The Cherokee Nation’s Health Services is offering free flu vaccinations for CN citizens and their families, including non-Native family members living in the household. Health officials have dozens of vaccination clinics scheduled in October and November at schools, town halls and health centers throughout the tribe’s jurisdiction. For the complete CN flu vaccination schedule, visit <a href="" target="_blank"></a>. The flu season typically runs September to March, but each year it peaks during different months. The tribe vaccinated more than 50,000 people during the most recent flu season. Vaccination clinic dates and locations are subject to change.
News Writer
09/22/2017 12:00 PM
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – U.S. Department of Human and Health Services Secretary Tom Price made his first visit to Oklahoma on Sept. 19 to meet with tribal officials from the Cherokee and Pawnee nations as part of a three-day tour of health care facilities and to address tribal health care needs. Following a tour of the Jack Brown Treatment Facility, a facility for treating Native American youth with substance abuse problems, Price and Principal Chief Bill John Baker held a press conference to address health care issues sweeping Indian Country and the United States. With the opioid crisis as the main topic, Baker talked about how hard the CN is being hit by the epidemic. “Pain medications are saturating the Cherokee Nation. In our Indian Child Welfare office, about 40 percent of our foster care cases involve families torn apart by opioids. We have babies being born in our hospital on a monthly basis having to be life-flighted to Tulsa because they entered the world, at no fault of their own, with these powerful drugs in their system,” he said. “Opioid is crippling Indian Country, and the Cherokee Nation is certainly feeling the negative effects. It is literally destroying lives and wrecking families.” Baker said the CN has filed a lawsuit against the largest distributors of opioid drugs in America, and the case is pending in tribal court. Price visited the CN as his third stop in Indian Country, while continuing his outreach to bring light to the opioid crisis. He commended the CN for the health care and behavior health services being provided at the W.W. Hastings Hospital and the Jack Brown Treatment Facility. “The work you’re doing here is really a model not just for Indian Country but for the entire nation,” said Price. “The system of self-governance and health care that exists in Cherokee Nation is one of remarkable expanse and remarkable capability.” Like the opioid statistics, the numbers in overdose deaths are continuing to get worse in CN and in America. Price said those numbers are “moving in the wrong direction.” “The number of overdose deaths in Cherokee Nation has more than doubled between 2003 and 2014… The numbers nation wide are astounding with over 60,000 overdose deaths across America in 2016,” he said. He addressed a five-point strategy the HHS has outlined for health care providers to heed in hopes of finding a solution to the overdose and opioid epidemic. The strategy includes more addiction prevention, treatment and recovery services, more overdose reversers as well as better data, research and pain treatment. The CN recently received a grant from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration for overdose reversers such as the nasal spray Naloxone, which blocks the effects of drugs made from opium or opioids. Price said traveling to different communities across the country allows him to ensure tribes are aware of those types of funding opportunities under the HHS strategy. “We are committed to fighting alongside Cherokee Nation and others – all American Indians and Alaskan Natives – to make certain this scourge is moved in the right direction, that is decreasing the incidents of this addiction,” he said.