MuskogeePhoenix.com, Muskogee, OK

April 15, 2008

Cherokee Nation will take over operation of Hastings hospital

Phoenix staff and wire reports

TAHLEQUAH — The Cherokee Nation announced Tuesday its decision to assume operations at W.W. Hastings Indian Hospital, currently operated by the Indian Health Service.

“We will create a comprehensive, integrated health care system that will provide improved care for our patients,” said Chad Smith, Principal Chief of the Cherokee Nation in a media release. “Most other large tribes in the Oklahoma area operate the Indian hospitals in their jurisdictional boundaries.

“This has proven effective for improving patient care and reducing waste and redundancy in the system.”

Smith announced in January the Cherokees were considering taking over the hospital’s operation but the decision came earlier than expected, said Mike Miller, tribal spokesman.

The United Keetowah Band of Cherokee Indians in Oklahoma had also said in January it was interested in assuming operation of the hospital.

Under the Indian Self Determination Act, the decision was the Cherokees’ to make, an Indian Health Services official said in January.

The tribe will assume the operation about Oct. 1 — the beginning of the new fiscal year, Miller said. A definite date has not been set.

Full-time federal employees at Hastings will remain federal employees after the transition, Miller said. Part-time employees will be offered positions as tribal employees, he said.

For patients, the transfer of operations should mean even better service, Miller said.

“The staff provides good treatment now, but they have to deal in a federal system where a lot of the decisions are made in Oklahoma City,” he said.

The patient also will benefit by having all treatment records integrated between the various Cherokee-operated clinics and the hospital, he said.

Smith said that integration also will provide more funding for health care and ultimately more access to high quality care.

As a tribally operated facility, Hastings would continue to receive existing IHS funds, but also be eligible for grants and joint venture projects that could bring in millions in additional health care funding in the future, Smith said in the media release.

“We currently receive more than $30 million in health care grants, and are getting ready to begin our second joint venture project to build a new health care clinic,” Smith said. “As an IHS facility, Hastings isn't eligible for those programs, but after the Cherokee Nation assumes operations those funding sources will open up as well.”