OPINION: Physician pay plan positions CN health care for better future

BY BILL JOHN BAKER
Former Principal Chief
11/01/2017 12:00 PM
The Cherokee Nation recently took a major step towards a stronger and brighter future for our health system. By boosting the compensation of the doctors and other health care professionals who care for our Cherokee people, we have laid a stronger foundation for consistent quality care. The professionals in our system are responsible with caring for our patients. They improve, and literally save, so many Cherokee and Native lives each year.

The new plan increases pay and incentives for doctors and advanced providers. The increase includes raising base pay, about a $35,000 increase for physicians in primary care, as well as providing a quarterly incentive based on work quality. Under this plan, every physician and advanced practitioner will see a raise. It will raise the threshold pay to the region’s market rate, which will affect about 120 doctors and advanced level providers who administer care in the tribe’s nine health centers and W.W. Hastings Hospital.

We devised a plan to raise salaries that is responsible and affordable. Our health leadership team, led by Connie Davis and Dr. Charles Grim, along with my Cabinet leaders, studied the issue, listened to our doctors and sought input from the Tribal Council. Collectively, we are all committed to providing the best health care possible to the Cherokee people. We want our citizens to have access to the best quality care, and that starts with our physicians. Building a level of trust and peace of mind for our doctors will only improve health care opportunities for our people in the long term.

To meet the growing demands on our system, we need to recruit and retain the best doctors we can. We recognize that in the competitive environment of rural health care, we had to take immediate steps in order to attract and retain quality doctors.

The CN operates the largest tribal health system in the United States, and our hospital and clinics see more than 1 million patient visits per year, and we are growing rapidly. We are investing $200 million to build a new facility through a joint venture with Indian Health Service. IHS will provide more than $90 million annually for staffing and operations. It will make Hastings the largest tribal health campus in the United States. It will open in 2019, and we will need to fill close to 900 new health care jobs.

This will only help us maximize our substantial commitment and investment to improved health care. In the end, these dollars will come back to us in the form of better health for the Cherokee people, more competitive applicants and more stability within our health facilities.

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