Chief Hoskin announces the opening of the largest outpatient health facility in the country on the Cherokee Nation. (Photo Courtesy Cherokee Nation)
The Cherokee Nation is blazing new trails forward in healthcare with two leading-edge “firsts” for Indian Country and the United States.
“Our mission is excellence in healthcare and to do that you need the right infrastructure and people in place. These two historic, groundbreaking events — the opening of our largest-in-the-country healthcare facility for Native Americans and the first medical school in Indian Country — both speak to those two elements of excellence in healthcare,” Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin, Jr. told Native Business.
On November 14, Cherokee Nation opened the doors to its 469,000-square-foot outpatient health facility, which counts 30 departments under one roof, including more than 240 exam rooms, two MRI machines, an ambulatory surgery center, 34 dental chairs, full service optometry and specialty health services.
“It’s groundbreaking for the Cherokee Nation and really affects our entire health system, which is the largest Native American health system in the country,” Chief Hoskin said.
The milestone reflects the power of the historic joint-venture agreement reached between the Tribe and the Indian Health Service (IHS), in which Cherokee Nation invested $200 million in construction and equipment for the facility, and IHS is providing $100 million annually for staffing and operational costs.
Chief Hoskin underscored the unique ability of the Cherokee Nation “to be able to deliver, in a rural setting, world-class healthcare and state-of-the-art facilities.” While this approach has succeeded elsewhere in Indian Country, Chief Hoskin conceded, “I think, at this scale, it’s unprecedented.”
The Nation achieved yet another breakthrough for Tribal healthcare in 2019 with the May 20 groundbreaking on the very first medical school in Indian Country. The college at W.W. Hastings Hospital in Tahlequah, Oklahoma, created through a partnership with Oklahoma State University (OSU), is scheduled to open with up to 50 students in 2020. It’s anticipated to serve 200 students when it becomes fully operational.
“A challenge I think the entire country faces, though particularly Indian Country, is recruiting and retaining the best and brightest healthcare professionals, most notably doctors,” Chief Hoskin told Native Business. “This is going to mean a pipeline of doctors — that is presently insufficient — will increase. In the years ahead and in the generation ahead, we will be in a better position to staff these facilities with doctors.”
Chief Hoskin added that the Nation knows, statistically, “that a doctor will practice within about 100 miles of where she goes to medical school,” he said. “So if we place it in Tahlequah, as we’ve done, we’ve given the entire region an opportunity to have this new crop of doctors.”
Chief Hoskin noted that students will be “immersed in Cherokee life,” and the school will create pathways for medical students to learn traditional disciplines as well as gain an understanding of culturally sensitive care. He added that his hope is to “inspire some young Cherokees to look toward a medical field” as well.
In addition to meeting the expectations of Cherokee citizens in terms of healthcare delivery, the Nation’s substantial investments in healthcare are making a positive economic impact through job creation and carving inroads to train and retain doctors in rural Oklahoma.
“The opportunity to inject that sort of economic vitality into the heart of the Cherokee Nation means that there’s going to be opportunities for our people — whether they want to be doctors or any number of fields — they’ll be those opportunities close to home, to serve their people in what is, I think, a great cause,” Chief Hoskin continued, “the cause of helping your fellow Cherokee live a healthier life.”