Cherokee Nation is launching an overhaul of the country’s largest tribally operated health care system as it invests $100 million from its business holdings to improve health care for the Cherokee people, a media release states.
The tribe will replace or renovate four health centers and build a new hospital over the next two to three years. Cherokee Nation Businesses’ construction division will manage the project, hiring dozens of TERO-certified Cherokee subcontractors, which will help boost the local economy.
“This is exactly what our businesses were designed to do. Our financial success belongs to the Cherokee people,” said Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Bill John Baker in the media release. “For the first time ever, we are taking a substantial amount of money directly from our businesses and putting it where it counts the most — health care for our citizens. Using our businesses to invest in and improve our health care system is the right thing to do, and it will literally save Cherokee lives.”
A major component of the health system expansion is a new 100-bed hospital, which replaces W.W. Hastings Hospital in Tahlequah. Built as an Indian Health Services facility in 1984, the hospital was constructed to serve 65,000 outpatient visits each year. Today, the facility is serving more than 400,000 patient visits per year. The new $53.1 million hospital allows the current hospital to become an outpatient center.
The expansion projects also include a 28,000-square-foot health center near Ochelata and a 42,000-square-foot health center in Jay. The Redbird Smith Health Center in Sallisaw will see a 30,000-square-foot expansion and 11,000 square feet of renovations. In Stilwell, 28,000 square feet will be added to the Wilma P. Mankiller Health Center.
The CNB board of directors unanimously approved the investment. Under Cherokee law, an annual dividend totaling 35 percent of CNB’s profits is deposited in the Cherokee Nation’s general fund. The Cherokee Nation general fund supports a variety of services, including housing, education, social services, health care and more. Last year, that dividend payment totaled $57 million.
“The needs of the Cherokee people are so diverse that the dividend payment helps us get closer to where we need to be on health care, but very slowly,” Baker said. “This infusion of $100 million, solely to health care infrastructure, helps us impact the health outcomes of Cherokees so much quicker. Our businesses have become so successful in recent years that it just makes sense and, quite frankly, is the right thing to do.”
“This is a great opportunity to show the Cherokee people why our casinos are here,” said Shawn Slaton, chief executive officer of CNB.
Aside from annual dividends, this is the first major investment the tribe’s businesses have made directly to tribal infrastructure. CNB will pay for the construction of the facilities and lease them back to the tribe for operation.