Opening of Largest Tribal Outpatient Health Center ‘Injects Economic Vitality into the Heart of the Cherokee Nation’

Cherokee Nation and Indian Health Service leaders will celebrate the grand opening of the largest Tribal outpatient health center in the country on Thursday, Nov. 14, at 11 a.m., in the first floor main lobby, 19600 E. Ross St. (Cherokee Nation)

“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,” Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin, Jr. told Native Business of the Tribe’s 469,000-square-foot outpatient health facility that officially debuts to the public today. 

The grand opening celebration includes a ribbon cutting, speeches by Cherokee Nation and Indian Health Service (IHS) leaders, and the opening of the doors to the facility — which counts 30 departments under one roof. 

The milestone reflects the power of the historic joint-venture agreement reached between the Tribe and the IHS. 

“It’s a product of the efforts of [former] Chief [Bill John] Baker and his team, myself included, over the past eight years,” Chief Hoskin said. 

The agreement was no easy feat. It entailed conversations with the federal government, IHS and members of Congress who could help the Nation compel IHS to reopen its joint venture process with the Cherokee Nation.

“It was a process that had been shuttered at the time that we started making our efforts,” Chief Hoskin explained. “So I think the Cherokee Nation deserves a lot of credit for reopening that process, because it helps all of Indian Country when Tribes get a chance to use their own resources to build facilities — but at the same time, not let the federal government off the hook for its obligation to operate this facility.”

The Cherokee Nation has invested about $200 million of its general fund dollars into the facility’s construction and purchase of equipment. Meanwhile, IHS is funding $100 million per year in staffing and operating 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.” 

Chief Hoskin recalled the health system of his youth to offer perspective on the incredible transformation of the Cherokee Nation economy and health system. 

“It was largely delivered through federally operated Indian Health Service facilities, which, for a variety of reasons, faced underfunding and insufficient staffing,” he shared of the IHS-run facilities from his childhood. “Well-meaning and compassionate people worked and operated these facilities, but in terms of the resources and the manner in which they operated, people in our area generally felt that we can do better.”

Chief Hoskin added, “And I think we’ve proven, particularly in the past decade, that we can do better in very real ways that affect people’s lives.” 

Even prior to the Cherokee Nation’s $200 million investment and agreement with the IHS to cover $100 million worth of operating costs annually for the outpatient health center, the Nation invested more than $100 million into its outlying, smaller health clinics “to provide a place that was worthy of the staff and the citizens who go there,” Chief Hoskin said. 

The Cherokee Nation has chosen to step up and invest in healthcare for its Nation, because it has attained an economy of scale that empowers it to better care for its citizens, and out of necessity — as the United States is billions of dollars behind in healthcare infrastructure investment in Indian Country.

“The United States, on the trajectory it’s on, is not going to meet what it’s responsibility is throughout Indian Country, including to the Cherokee Nation,” Chief Hoskin underscored to Native Business. “So, because the Cherokee Nation was in a position of relative economic strength to where we were a decade ago, we’re able to invest in our own resources into these kinds of facilities. So we leveraged that strength into this historic agreement with the federal government.” 

First and foremost, the Cherokee Nation opening the largest Tribal outpatient health center in the country today is about “better healthcare and meeting the expectations of our citizens in terms of health care delivery. Secondarily, and very important, is the economic impact this will have,” Chief Hoskin said. “This facility will employ 850 people when it hits its peak with over 100 doctors and more nurses and other health professionals.” 

“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.”