September 1, 2008

Tribe OKs Pact to Take Over Hospital


The Cherokee Nation Tribal Council voted Thursday evening to ratify an agreement with Indian Health Services to assume control of the W.W. Hastings Indian Hospital in Tahlequah.

The tribe likely will assume operational control of the hospital, near the Tahlequah City Hospital, about Oct. 1, Principal Chief Chad Smith said.

The vote, held at a special meeting, was 13-4 for ratification of the agreement.

Smith said the tribe's takeover of the hospital, which now is run by the U.S. Office of Health and Human Services' Indian Health Service, would cut bureaucratic red tape and allow the hospital to work with the Tahlequah City Hospital while expanding and improving accessibility and service.

"They can really only go so far in improving Indian health coverage because of the complexities of the federal government," Smith said. "By us contracting, it gives them leeway, flexibility to do a lot of the things they can do to increase health care, and it allows us to combine our resources with them."

The Cherokee Nation also plans to expand the facility and create new ones on adjacent property owned by the tribe, Smith said.

Measures that would help improve the services at Hastings include separating the emergency room from walk-in patient care and adding speciality services, he said.

In July, the Cherokee Nation announced its plan in the coming years to build a 200,000-square-foot health-care facility, a surgery center, and buildings for doctors, medical storage and health-care programs.

Last year, the hospital recorded about 244,000 patient visits in a space meant to accommodate 60,000 patient visits, according to a media release from the tribe.

"It's a great opportunity because you have willing partners with the same goal, and that is (to) increase Indian health care by increasing not only quantity of services but kind and quality of services," Smith said.

However, some councilors said the acquisition of a hospital is happening too fast, leaving work that still needs to be done on the tribal clinics and questions as to whether the tribe can properly manage a hospital.

"There were too many unanswered questions," said Jodie Fishinghawk, one of the four councilors to vote against the measure. "It was a huge takeover."

Other councilors who opposed the measure were Tina Glory Jordan, Bill John Baker and S. Joe Crittenden.

Clifton Adcock 581-8462

[email protected]

Originally published by CLIFTON ADCOCK World Staff Writer.

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