‘Transformational moment’ as CN officially opens $200 million health center
An emotional Bill John Baker, former Cherokee Nation principal chief, speaks Nov. 14 during the grand opening of the W.W. Hastings Outpatient Health Center in Tahlequah. CHAD HUNTER/CHEROKEE PHOENIX
The Cherokee Nation’s new outpatient health center in Tahlequah was the site of a grand opening celebration Nov. 14. CHAD HUNTER/CHEROKEE PHOENIX
Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr. speaks Nov. 14 inside the four-story W.W. Hastings Outpatient Health Center as part of a grand-opening celebration. CHAD HUNTER/CHEROKEE PHOENIX
TAHLEQUAH — Inside the vast main lobby of the Cherokee Nation’s state-of-the-art outpatient health center, tribal leaders and hundreds of spectators celebrated the facility’s grand opening Nov. 14.
“We’re gathered today not to celebrate merely a milestone in the development of our health care system, but a transformational moment in our Nation that will have generational impact,” Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr. told those in attendance.
The four-story, 469,000-square-foot W.W. Hastings Outpatient Health Center in Tahlequah is the largest tribal outpatient health facility in the country.
“Cherokee Nation, in an era of unprecedented prosperity, harnessed $200 million, our own dollars, to build this magnificent facility,” Hoskin said. “But at the same time, we are holding the federal government to its promise to pay operating costs of over $100 million a year for the life of this building. This will allow us to deliver better health care, more health care, more efficient health care, all while hiring hundreds and hundreds of new health care professionals.”
To cover operational costs, in 2016, the tribe signed a joint-venture agreement with the Indian Health Service, a division within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
“This is the largest joint-venture project in the agency’s history,” IHS Deputy Director Chris Buchanan said.
CN leaders pointed to former Principal Chief Bill John Baker as the driving force behind the project. An emotional Baker said the state-of-the art facility would allow the tribe to “serve our people so much better and so much quicker.”
“This facility and all of the sister facilities that we were able to build will change health care in the Cherokee Nation for the next seven generations,” he added. “That is the Cherokee way. I am blessed that you gave me the opportunity, and I am blessed that we have a principal chief that is following the vision and adding and compounding onto better health care and a better life for the Cherokee people.”
According to the CN, it operates the largest tribal health system in the country with more than 1.3 million patient visits per year. The tribe’s new facility features more than 240 exam rooms, two MRI machines, an ambulatory surgery center, 34 dental chairs, and full service optometry and specialty health services.
“The opening of this facility is hardly the first time that the Cherokee Nation has seized control of the delivery of health care,” Hoskin said. “But it indeed marks a transformational moment in our history.”
The health care expansion is expected to create 850 new jobs that include 100 physicians, according to the CN.
The tribe held a ribbon-cutting ceremony in October for the facility’s optometry, audiology, physical rehabilitation, behavioral health, radiology, lab and pharmacy services.
As noted by many, the building is filled with artwork created by Cherokee citizens, including 64 Cherokee National Treasures.
“You’ll notice this facility could double as a Cherokee art and cultural museum,” Tribal Council Speaker Joe Byrd said. “We have over 600 pieces throughout the clinic all made by Cherokee artists.”
The outpatient health center is located at 19600 N. Ross St.