Health facility construction, employment planning underway

BY KENLEA HENSON
Former Reporter
01/02/2018 08:15 AM
Main Cherokee Phoenix
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
Main Cherokee Phoenix
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.

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