CN breaks ground on Stilwell health center expansion
CHAD HUNTER Reporter
03/04/2020 11:30 AM
An artist rendering of the 80,000-square-foot addition to the Wilma P. Mankiller Health Center expansion. COURTESY
Shovels are arranged at the site of a groundbreaking ceremony for an expansion project at the Wilma P. Mankiller Health Center in Stilwell on March 3. CHAD HUNTER/CHEROKEE PHOENIX
Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr. talks about a $30 million plan to expand the Wilma P. Mankiller Health Center on March 3. CHAD HUNTER/CHEROKEE PHOENIX
Cherokee Nation leaders including Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr. and Deputy Chief Bryan Warner break ground for an expansion project at the Wilma P. Mankiller Health Center in Stilwell on March 3. CHAD HUNTER/CHEROKEE PHOENIX
STILWELL — Cherokee Nation leaders gathered in Stilwell on March 3 to kick off a $30 million expansion of the Wilma P. Mankiller Health Center.
“Today what we’re doing is adding 80,000 square feet,” Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr. told those who attended the afternoon groundbreaking ceremony. “Ultimately when we finish the phases it will be about 110,000 square feet. It will open access to health care. It will do something first and foremost for our people. It will also stimulate some growth in the local economy as we expand and fill this facility.”
The health center first opened in 1994, then was expanded in 2015 through a $10 million effort. An original 37,000-square-foot portion of the health center was recently demolished to make way for the latest two-story expansion.
“The 1994 building, there were some issues with it in terms of it had gotten some water leaks which created some mold problems,” Hoskin said. “We made the decision that if we’re going to do it, let’s do it right. So razing that to the ground and bringing a new building back up just was the most cost-effective and it was the right thing to do in terms of having something that will stand the test of time.”
The Stilwell project will expand dental, optometry and pharmacy services while also allowing for future growth, according to the CN.
“This is great,” 25-year health center employee Nita Cochran said. “We need it. We needed something bigger where people could come to one place and get all the services they need.”
Newly named Executive Director of CN Health Services Dr. R. Stephen Jones called Stilwell home.
“This is where I grew up,” he said. “I started my career here years ago. This has come a long way from the little building we had down the street behind the church. It’s an amazing accomplishment. This is going to allow us to open up access to our patients like never before, to more people than we’ve ever been able to serve before. It’s going to allow us to bring technology and tools to our providers to care for our patients like they’ve never been cared for before. That’s an amazing feeling.”
In 2019, the health center saw more than 134,000 ambulatory care visits and filled nearly 200,000 prescriptions.
“Right there you can see that we’ve just outgrown our current facility,” Dist. 7 Tribal Councilor Canaan Duncan said. “It’s just time to invest in Adair County, and I’m glad that leadership has done that. It means that the folks of Adair County for future generations are going to have quality access to health care.”
The construction project, expected to be completed in 2021, is named after the tribe’s first female principal chief, Wilma Mankiller, who served from 1985-95. She died on April 6, 2010, at her Adair County home at age 64.
“She was a wonderful person,” said Cochran, who began her career with the Cherokee Nation in 1973 and at one time worked under Chief Mankiller. “She loved people. She loved helping people. She taught me that no matter where you worked, remember who you work for. I still carry that.”
Hoskin and others also lauded Mankiller’s leadership, especially in the area of health care.
“Wilma Mankiller didn’t have the checkbook that we have now from Cherokee Nation Businesses and the other resources that we have,” he said. “She had to go to the government of the United States with moral courage, with the force of being the chief of the Cherokee Nation, telling the federal government that it was behind on health care for Native peoples in this country, and showing great leadership, showing that grit and determination that has gotten us so far. She got it done.”
According to the CN, it operates the largest tribal health system in the country with more than 1.3 million patient visits per year.
During his speech, Hoskin recognized the CN’s health care employees.
“We know that we can build all the buildings that we want,” he said. “But we have to have dedicated public servants, health care professionals working inside of them.”
Chad Hunter has spent more than two decades in the newspaper industry as a reporter and editor in Arkansas, Oklahoma and his home state of Missouri. He began working for the Cherokee Phoenix in late ...