Cherokees plan new health centers at hospital site
By CLIFTON ADCOCK World Staff Writer
Last Modified: 7/29/2008 3:13 AM
TAHLEQUAH —The 45 acres of weeds, rocks, tangled brush and post oaks adjacent to the W.W. Hastings Indian Hospital soon might be home to a beacon in Indian health care.
Cherokee Nation officials laid out the tribe's long-term plans to build a health complex at the hospital during a news conference Monday attended by officials from the tribe, the city of Tahlequah and Tahlequah City Hospital.
The plans and the tribe's intended takeover of the hospital likely will be discussed at an Aug. 5 special meeting of the tribe's health committee.
The hospital now is operated by Indian Health Services, a division of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, but the Cherokee Nation announced in April that it intended to take over operations at the hospital.
Plans for the hospital include separating the outpatient clinic from the inpatient hospital and providing a new outpatient surgery center, a new facility for doctors' offices, a new medical support building and a new center for future expansion for educational and health programs.
No cost or completion estimates have been established. The tribal council is still in discussions about taking over operation of the hospital, said Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Chad Smith, although officials said they hope that the complex will be developed in five to 10 years.
"Not only do we have an obligation, we have an opportunity to become that center of excellence in health care in Indian Country," Smith said. "Some (aspects) could come to fruition within a year; other aspects could take longer."
The tribe also will be working with the Tahlequah City Hospital to develop some of the planned complexes and might share some of the facilities, such as the doctors' offices, with the hospital.
The Cherokee Nation's taking over W.W. Hastings from Indian Health Services will help the expansion and funding and will improve health-care access for patients, Smith said.
The expansion also will keep patients who need special services in Tahlequah, he said. Now, many are forced to go out of town for treatment.
"Having that kind of medical cluster here will help us all," Smith said.
The tribe has a target date of Oct. 1 to take over operations at the hospital, tribal spokesman Mike Miller said.