Tuesday, March 18, 2014

One Year Later: Delivering on a Promise to Cherokee People

Over the past 12 months, I have been fortunate to travel across the Cherokee Nation’s 14 counties, meeting with tribal citizens on the issues and programs that mean the most to them.

During all those community events, speaking engagements and suppers, one constant remained true: There is nothing more important to the Cherokee Nation today, tomorrow and years from now than access to quality health care. This is the single most important thing we can do as a government to improve the lives of our people.

It was just one year ago that I announced we would use more than $100 million of Cherokee Nation Businesses’ casino profits to fund renovations and expansions at existing health centers, as well as a new surgical hospital in Tahlequah, our capital city. We have been successful financially, and I’m proud that we are finally investing casino dollars directly into our tribal infrastructure to ensure we have future generations of healthy Cherokees. Our business success belongs to our people.

I am also pleased to report that our vision to reinvest CNB business profits into our people is flourishing. Our businesses were created to generate a profit for our tribal citizens to share in. In the past 12 months, we have delivered on those promises to improve health care.

We have broken ground on these health centers:

A new 30,000-square-foot health center expansion and 11,000-square-foot renovation at Cherokee Nation Redbird Smith Health Center in Sallisaw

A new 28,000-square-foot Cherokee Nation Cooweescoowee Health Center in Ochelata

A new 42,000-square-foot health center in Jay

A new 28,000-square-foot health center expansion of the Wilma P. Mankiller Health Center in Stilwell.

That equals 128,000 feet of new space and 11,000 feet of refurbished space to provide quality care.

No Cherokee citizen will have to drive more than 30 miles to get treated. Later this year we will break ground on a state-of-the-art, 150,000-square-foot surgical hospital.

I truly believe that every Cherokee Nation citizen deserves a long and healthy life. Living that long and happy life means our people, who make more than one million health care visits annually to our facilities, receive world-class care.

We have the biggest health care system in all of Indian Country and it should also be the best. Our centers offer medical, dental, lab, radiology, public health, WIC, nutrition, contract health, pharmacy, behavioral health, optometry, community health service and mammography. When we open these expansions, the wait will be shorter and the services will be faster.

With more space, more staff and more education, we can focus on prevention. Investments in wellness awareness will make our health care system more efficient and will have a lasting effect on preventing chronic disease. When we create healthier people today, we will preempt health crises tomorrow.

Additionally, each expansion means good construction jobs are being created. Our own Cherokee CRC, a CNB business, is responsible for production and assembly. That means Cherokee capital investments are creating Cherokee jobs to improve the health of Cherokee people. In 12 short months we have made huge strides for our people.

I promised the Cherokee Nation would strive for a world-class health care system and no Cherokee would get second-class health care. These expansions make good on that promise.

I was taught that every decision we make today will impact the next seven generations. The investment we are making to build a world-class health care system will sustain the health and economy of the Cherokee Nation for generations to come.

Breaking ground on the expansion of the Wilma P. Mankiller Health Center in Stilwell with Frankie Hargis, Cherokee Nation Tribal Council; S. Joe Crittenden, Deputy Principal Chief of the Cherokee Nation; ; Jodie Fishinghawk, Cherokee Nation Tribal Council; Chuck Hoskin Jr., Cherokee Nation Secretary of State; and Shawn Slaton, CEO of Cherokee Nation Businesses.