MuskogeePhoenix.com, Muskogee, OK

January 17, 2008

Keep IHS at Hastings


W.W. Hastings Hospital would be better left to the management of Indian Health Services.

The Cherokee Nation and the United Keetoowah Band of the Cherokee Indians recently indicated they want to operate the hospital.

Ed McLemore, chief executive officer of Hastings, said in a Phoenix story last week that the Indian Self-Determination Act provides the option for tribes in their jurisdictional areas to take over management of health facilities.

The Cherokee Nation publicly announced Jan. 11 its desire to assume control of Hastings, and the Keetoowahs followed a few days later. UKB spokesman Sammy Still said that the Keetoowahs were not trying to fight with the Cherokees over the hospital.

It should not become a fight. But the two tribes have had disagreements over several issues over the years, and that’s one reason to leave the hospital under Indian Health Services.

Many Native Americans of other tribal groups also live in eastern Oklahoma. They, too, would be best served by a hospital without affiliation to one tribe.

And Cherokees, if they want, already have a number of health facilities in the area at which they can receive care.

Cherokee Principal Chief Chad Smith argued that one advantage to the tribe’s management of the hospital would be the removal of “layers of federal bureaucracy” that would mean more funding for health care. A Cherokee spokesman said federal officials in Oklahoma City receive millions of dollars to oversee Hastings.

If that’s true, that millions of dollars are going to management when it could be used for health care, that’s shameful. Someone should have brought that issue up years ago.

But more likely than not, whichever tribe manages Hastings will have to assume the administrative duties and paperwork and their cost that is being done in Oklahoma City and at Hastings. If one of the tribes does take over, we should watch closely to see how well they can turn “management” funding into health care funding.

However, the best thing would be to leave the management at Hastings as it is now.