An aerial view shows construction progress on the Cherokee Nation’s Outpatient Health Center in Tahlequah, Oklahoma. The facility will be four stories and approximately 470,000 square feet. It’s located on 45 acres east of W.W. Hastings and is expected to open in September 2019. COURTESY
Health facility construction, employment planning underway
An aerial view shows construction of the Cherokee Nation’s 470,000-square-foot outpatient health center in Tahlequah, Oklahoma. The facility will serve as the primary health care access point for American Indians and Alaskan Natives residing in the Tahlequah service area. COURTESY
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – With construction following a February groundbreaking on the Cherokee Nation’s new health facility near W.W. Hastings Hospital, tribal officials are now planning for employment for when it’s completed in September 2019.
The outpatient and primary care facility, which Indian Health Services awarded to the CN, is one of the largest joint venture agreements between a tribe and IHS, according to a CN press release.
Once completed, the facility will be the largest health center of any tribe in the country at approximately 470,000 square feet and four stories high. It will serve as the primary health care access point for American Indians and Alaskan Natives residing in the Tahlequah service area.
The facility will feature five surgical suites and two endoscopy suites inside its ambulatory surgical center. It will house a specialty clinic and feature 33 dental chairs, six eye exam rooms and three audiology-testing booths. Space will also be expanded for rehabilitation services, behavioral health and a wellness center.
During the past several months, construction crews have transformed 45 acres into the health center’s beginning stages. So far concrete foundations have been poured and steel structures are going up. As a result, 350 construction jobs have been created.
“I don’t think we can overstate the amount of payroll dollars this thing has. We are working with our TERO (Tribal Employment Rights Office) contractors and TERO sub-contractors to keep as much of that payroll in our community as we possibly can. You can see the number of trucks going in and out of here and the impact it has,” Brain Hail, W.W. Hastings Hospital CEO, said.
Hospital officials meet with architects and contractors monthly for construction updates, and Hail said the expansion is being designed to “accommodate” staff and patients.
“The staff has done a really good job of responding to questions quickly during the design phase, so we can get the design phase completed. We also have done mockups so the facility will be constructed to accommodate the staff that is using it,” he said. “We also try to be very focused on the patients’ experience to make sure they don’t have to walk any further then absolutely necessary, especially our elders.”
With regards to a proactive patient experience, he said parking would significantly increase at the facility. Hospital officials are also in the planning phase for hiring staff. With a larger facility and additional services, the facility will require an additional 800 health care professionals.
Hail said the hospital is working with the tribe’s Education and Career Services departments to prepare a work force for the facility’s opening.
“We are trying to be proactive with Education and Career Services to make sure they’re aware of the needs that we are going to have when we open the new facility so they can start adjusting their scholarships, start adjusting the training they provide and start getting ready to prepare our workforce for the facility. We also have our offices of professional recruitment and retention aware of what we are going to need, so they can be recruiting people now and getting them ready to join us when we open,” he said.
While the center’s opening less than two years away, positions in certain areas will be needed as early as six months to a year prior to the opening. Those areas include information technology, environmental services, facilities management and security. To ensure those positions are secured before the opening, Hail said officials are requesting early funding.
With Hastings Hospital being more than 35 years old and approximately 180,000 square foot, it was designed to serve 60,000 patient visits annually. However, in 2016, the hospital saw nearly 400,000 patient visits, and in 2017 it handled more than 500,000 patient visits.
As patient visits increase, Hail said officials are planning for the future with the new facility.
“The current facility is in need of expansion and modernization to serve current and future demands,” he said. “We are basically working for a 20-to-25-year timeline to try to anticipate what we need for the next 20 to 25 years in health care and the community.”
Officials are also planning for the future through recruitment and a partnership with the Oklahoma State University Center for Health and Sciences to expand its medical school to Tahlequah.
Inpatient operations, emergency services, labor and delivery decks, diagnostic imaging and pharmacy will remain at Hastings Hospital. And the medical school will occupy Hastings’ remaining space after the new facility is finished.
“We are doing everything that we can to try and expand the number of professionals that will be available to us. What everyone sees is where people train is where they tend to stay, so we want to train as many people in our area so they stay in the area,” he said.
SALLISAW – When Cherokee Nation citizen Shacotah Sanders lost his hair after undergoing chemotherapy for Stage 2 Hodgkin Lymphoma last year, his mother, Tammie Simms, shaved her head in solidarity.
“Chemotherapy is a really long process. It’s painful. It’s stressful. It’s really emotional because I lost all my hair,” Sanders said. “That was something I was really scared of right there, but the main thing that keeps me going is my mom. She’s like the only one that really keeps me going.”
This familial support is once more a shoulder for Sanders to lie on because while his hair has grown back, so too have the cancerous spots in his neck. It is a possibility that he had accepted after going into remission in October.
“I had prepared myself for it because there’s always that possibility that it could come back,” Sanders said. “Every three months I have a checkup, a PET scan, and we decided to do one in early March this year. We did it, waited about two weeks to get the results. We went back to my oncologist doctor, and he said that it came back, but it wasn’t as big as last time and not as bad. He said it was in the same spot and at the same stage, Stage 2.”
Sanders began undergoing 22 rounds of radiation on April 3 to again battle the cancerous disease, which starts in the white blood cells called lymphocytes. It causes uncontrollable cell reproduction that can potentially invade other tissues throughout the body and disrupt normal tissue function, according to the American Cancer Society.
Sanders travels from Sallisaw to Tahlequah’s Northeast Oklahoma Cancer Center five days a week for his radiation sessions and will have checkups every three to six months after the treatments.
“The radiation, they take you to a back room with a really big machine and you just lay on it, like a flat surface, and then they put a mesh mask over your face and tilt your head back so they can get to the spots where the cancer is. There’s no needles involved or anything. It’s just a big machine shooting radiation down on your body,” he said.
The first time Sanders noticed something amiss with his health was in March 2017.
“Every time I went running I noticed my breathing was off quite a bit, so I was just feeling around on my neck and I found these lumps on the right side of my neck, below my jaw. It was just affecting my breathing a lot, so I went to the doctor and had them check it out,” he said.
After a PET scan and surgery, doctors removed two of Sanders’ lymph nodes.
“They sent them off to be tested and they came back cancerous. They told me it was Stage 2 Hodgkin Lymphoma and we started treatment last year in April,” Sanders said.
Doctors prescribed Sanders four rounds of chemotherapy at Warren Clinic Medical Oncology in Tahlequah.
“I was supposed to do four, but three rounds did it,” Sanders said. “During that time, I still went to work, and I didn’t feel good at all going to work, but I still worked my eight hours a day. I still went to work, put a smile on my face. I had a really good attitude about it.”
Though the cancer has returned and forced Sanders to put classes at Carl Albert State College on hold while continuing to work, he remains positive and recommends anyone going through a diagnosis to do the same. “Just have a positive attitude about everything. Surround yourself with positive things, people, family and friends,” he said.
Sanders has a GoFundMe account to help with expenses. To donate, visit <a href="http://www.gofundme.com/hodgkins-lymphoma-fight" target="_blank">www.gofundme.com/hodgkins-lymphoma-fight</a>.
<strong>Symptoms and Info</strong>
Possible symptoms of Hodgkin Lymphoma include fever, drenching night sweats and weight loss constituting at least 10 percent of a person’s body weight over the course of six months, according to the American Cancer Society. For more information, visit <a href="www.cancer.org/cancer/hodgkin-lymphoma.html " target="_blank">www.cancer.org/cancer/hodgkin-lymphoma.html</a>.
TAHLEQUAH – Northeastern State University’s Oklahoma College of Optometry goes back 39 years in its relationship with the Cherokee Nation and in providing Cherokees eye care.
NSUOCO works with nine CN clinics, also known as Rural Eye Programs, in Tahlequah, Sallisaw, Stilwell, Jay, Salina, Vinita, Nowata, Muskogee and Ochelata and services 40,000 to 60,000 patients annually.
Its first graduating class was in 1983 and has since averaged 28 graduates annually from its four-year doctorate program.
The NSU campus clinic contains 20 exam rooms and specialty clinics for dry eye, contact lenses, low vision, vision therapy and infant vision clinic. If a REP is unable to provide a type of eye care, patients are sent to the NSU clinic for further evaluation and treatment.
Nate Lighthizer, NSUOCO Continuing Medical Education director and doctor of optometry, said the college has seen patients from 2 months old to 102 years old.
“We all have different vision needs. That’s one of the beauties of having a college is we have 35 faculty members that are either here, in (W.W.) Hastings (Hospital) or in the REPs, and a lot them have different interests. We have doctors that specialize in infant vision and vision therapy. They’re the expert in the 6-month-old and the 2-, 3-, 4-, 5-year-old. Other doctors, they’re the expert in the 80-year-olds,” Lighthizer said.
He said students begin in “didactically heavy” classes, building foundations and learning about systemic diseases, eye diseases, procedures when giving primary care, looking at the eye with microscopes and other program aspects.
He said students begin seeing patients at the end of the second year and into the third year.
CN citizen and fourth-year student Seth Rich said he applied for the NSU program because of the experience it would give him treating patients by the time he graduates.
“I’m from this area, so I wanted to serve basically in the population that I grew up in. Here at NSU we see more patients compared to any other optometry school by the time we graduate. We have more patient interactions that any other optometry school is going to have and more clinical experience because we start seeing patients a year early than most other schools,” he said.
Rich said he also has experience using the REPs and seeing the eye care needs among Cherokees.
“We deal with a lot of diabetic patients here at Cherokee Nation, and that has a really large effect on the eyes. Being able to be in this area and serve a population that has a huge need for us is a big deal because I personally have a lot of family ties to this area want to be in a community where I feel like I’m going to be contributing and giving back and helping the overall health of the population with health and exams,” he said.
Rich said the program prepares students to “go out into the real world” and treat patients of any need. “I feel very confident going out into the population and serving basically anybody that walks in the door.”
CN citizen Tara Comingdeer Fields, who is in her first year at NSUOCO, said she chose the program because of her area ties. “It’s not specifically just Cherokee Indians that I want to serve, but overall Native Americans. My background is I grew up in a traditional family, so the medicines and traditions that we did just kind of stuck with me, and now I want to help people.”
Comingdeer Fields and Rich are recipients of Indian Health Services scholarships for optometry and will work under an IHS contract upon graduation.
Lighthizer said CN citizens make up between 10 to 15 percent of the NSUOCO’s students and that it’s usually rewarding for a Cherokee to grow up using CN eye care services and then go through the program and become a provider. “It’s just a very mutually beneficial relationship between Cherokee Nation to be able to have all of these patients seen and then obviously for the education for students to be able to see patients and hone their skills.”
SANTA ANA PUEBLO, N.M. – The Notah Begay III (NB3) Foundation, with a grant from the Comcast Foundation and in partnership with Cultivating Coders, is accepting applications for a national competition for Native youth to design a mobile app focusing on improving the health and nutrition of Native youth – designed by Native youth.
The competition is open to individuals or teams of Native youth, ages 13-18, experienced in coding, design and digital media and/or mobile technology.
Participants must submit a completed application with supporting documents that includes a four-page outline and video of the app. Contest applications will be accepted until July 1. Learn about the contest criteria, eligibility and application process at: <a href="http://www.nb3foundation.org/healthy-kids-healthy-futures-app-contest/" target="_blank">http://www.nb3foundation.org/healthy-kids-healthy-futures-app-contest/</a>.
“The NB3 Foundation recognizes that more and more Native youth are using their mobile devices and APPs to track their physical activity, nutrition and even water intake. This competition is an integral step for the Foundation in the direction of connecting youth with technology to build healthier lifestyles,” NB3 Foundation President and CEO Justin Kii Huenemann, said.
The contest’s intent is to engage and challenge creative and tech-savvy Native youth from across Indian Country to think creatively, culturally and digitally about their diet, nutrition, exercise and fitness; and turn that knowledge into a solution or problem-solving mobile app that may be used by the NB3 Foundation.
A panel of NB3 Foundation staff and experts will choose a first-, second- and third-place winners. The first-place winner will proceed to work with Cultivating Coders, a software company and social enterprise focused on priming the next generation of coders to develop, design and implement their own solutions to address their local challenges, to further develop the app into a minimum viable product.
For more information or questions about the application process, email Simone Duran, NB3 Foundation program assistant, at <a href="mailto: email@example.com">firstname.lastname@example.org</a> or call 505-867-0775, ext. 104.
VINITA – The Cherokee Nation’s Behavioral Health is using federal grants to train law enforcement, youth workers and health officials to better handle mental illness.
Behavioral Health special projects officer Tonya Boone, a certified instructor, has led eight classes, including her most recent adult mental health first-aid class at the CN Vinita Health Center.
“I was certified in August of 2017 and have since certified around 150 individuals,” Boone said.
More than 20 people from CN Health Services and surrounding health care agencies were involved in the most recent training in Vinita. During the eight-hour course, participants memorized a five-step action plan and were taught how to identify mental health risk factors, offer support and be effective communicators.
Only about 5,000 instructors nationwide are certified to teach mental health first aid, including six from the CN.
Behavioral Health Clinic Administrator Joni Lyon said for her team of certified instructors it is about more than training. It’s about making a difference in the lives of those who may be suffering from a mental illness or substance abuse.
“We are invested in providing education and information for our communities regarding mental health and substance abuse,” Lyon said. “Our department acknowledges that Cherokee Nation is not exempt from these types of issues and wants to ensure our communities are provided with appropriate information and education to assist persons seeking services in their community.”
All five courses, funded through a Substance Abuse and Mental Health Service Administration grant and the Indian Health Service, teach specific risk factors and warning signs of mental illness and how they relate to an emergency situation. Instructors can be certified in any of the courses and certifications must be renewed every three years.
So far in 2018, the tribe has certified more than 100 participants in mental health first aid and was expected to offer four classes relating to youth at the Jack Brown Youth Treatment Center in Tahlequah in April.
Behavioral Health offers various services to all federally recognized tribal citizens, including specialized services for women, individual and group therapy for mental health and substance abuse, relapse prevention, children and family treatment and parenting classes. In addition to counseling, the department handles psychological testing for children and adults. For CN citizens living within the tribe’s jurisdictional boundaries, referral services for substance abuse and psychiatric stabilization are also available.
For more information on mental health first-aid training, visit <a href="http://www.mentalhealthfirstaid.com" target="_blank">www.mentalhealthfirstaid.com</a>.
TAHLEQUAH – According to a Cherokee Nation email, Dr. Charles Grim has been promoted from interim executive director of the tribe’s Health Services to executive director.
“I am proud to announce that Dr. Charles Grim will assume the permanent duties as Cherokee Nation’s executive director of Cherokee Nation Health Services,” Principal Chief Bill John Baker stated in the April 9 email. “Without a doubt, Dr. Grim’s experience, leadership and expertise have paved the way for continued growth to better meet the diverse health care needs of the Cherokee Nation.”
Grim had been serving as the interim executive director since November after former Executive Director Connie Davis resigned to spend more time with her family. Davis had served in that role since 2012.
According to the email, Grim takes control of the largest health care system in Indian Country that services 14 counties in northeast Oklahoma and more than 1.2 million patient visits annually to eight health centers and the W.W. Hastings Hospital.
“I feel very honored to be appointed this role and for the opportunity to continue to lead a team that I have held close to my heart for a number of years,” Grim said. “As both an employee and a Cherokee Nation citizen, I appreciate Chief Baker and his vision for the future of the tribe’s health care system and I look forward to what we will all accomplish together for the health of our Cherokee Nation citizens.”
Grim, a CN citizen, is a retired assistant Surgeon General and rear admiral in the Commissioned Corps of the U.S. Public Health Services.
During his career, Grim has received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Oklahoma Area Indian Health Service, Health Leader of the Year from Commissioned Officers Association of U.S. Public Health Service, Community Leadership Award from the CN, as well as multiple U.S. Public Health Service medals and citations, including the U.S. Surgeon General’s Exemplary Service Medallion.
Since 2013, Grim has served as Health Services deputy director, in which he was second in command of Hastings Hospital, the health centers, Emergency Medical Services, finance and billing services, facilities management, the Jack Brown Youth Regional Treatment Center and a host of public health and community health services and programs. Prior to that, Grim served as Health Services senior director of for more than three years.
Preceding his CN employment, Grim spent 26 years working for IHS in clinical, administrative and executive leadership positions. In 2002, President George W. Bush appointed him as director of IHS with a unanimous Senate confirmation. During that time he administered a nationwide multi-billion dollar health care delivery program, with 12 administrative regional offices and over 16,000 employees.
He graduated from the University of Oklahoma College of Dentistry and received a master’s degree in public health at the University of Michigan.
Grim is expected to oversee Health Services when it opens the 469,000-square-foot Hastings Hospital expansion next year, which will be the largest IHS health center constructed.
“Better health care has been the primary objective for my administration since taking office. We have vastly expanded our provider system to serve more communities and tribal citizens than ever before,” Baker stated. “We continue to improve health care by providing more and better services. As an administrator, Dr. Grim is uniquely qualified to ensure we provide the best health care possible in order to create healthier and more productive families.”
OKLAHOMA CITY – Oklahoma City Indian Clinic commemorated “Diabetes Alert Day” on March 27 to promote the seriousness of diabetes, particularly when it is left undiagnosed or untreated.
One-in-three American adults are at risk for developing Type 2 diabetes, a serious disease that can lead to complications like kidney failure, heart disease, stroke, blindness and amputations. Type 2 diabetes doesn’t have to be permanent. It can be prevented or delayed with healthy lifestyle modifications. The first step is learning about the disease’s risks.
“Early detection and treatment of diabetes decreases the risk of developing complications of diabetes," said Robyn Sunday-Allen, CEO of OKCIC.
A simple and quick 60-second test located on the American Diabetes Association website can help a person determine if he or she is at risk for developing Type 2 diabetes.
American Indian and Alaska Native adults are 2.3 times more likely to be diagnosed with diabetes compared with non-Hispanic whites. Because of this diabetes epidemic, OKCIC has a specific program titled “Special Diabetes Program for Indians,” to provide Native Americans with diabetes treatment and prevention services. Through this grant-funded program OKCIC is able to educate, diagnose and assist patients with their diabetes management through lifestyle changes and intervention.
Common signs of diabetes and symptoms include: urinating more than usual, feeling very thirsty, feeling hungry even after eating, feeling tired, having blurred vision, having frequent infections or slow-healing cuts and sores and having tingling, pain or numbness in the hands or feet.
Oklahoma City Indian Clinic was established in 1974 to provide excellent health care and wellness services to American Indians in central Oklahoma. The clinic staff cares for more than 18,000 patients from more than 200 federally recognized tribes every year.
American Indians can receive a range of services, including medical, dental, pediatrics, prenatal, pharmacy, optometry, physical fitness, nutrition, family programs and behavioral health services. For more information, call 405-948-4900 or visit <a href="http://www.okcic.com" target="_blank">www.okcic.com</a>.