September 3, 2008

Cherokee Nation to Assume Control of Tahlequah Hospital

By Brian Brus

The Cherokee Nation Tribal Council will assume operations of the W.W. Hastings Hospital in Tahlequah, the board decided in a 13-4 vote at a recent special meeting.

The hospital, which has been operated by the federal Indian Health Service for decades, now serves about four times the patients annually as in 1984 and badly needs expansion, according to studies by the tribe and federal agency.

Tribal officials have been working with the Indian Health Service for months to negotiate an agreement to transfer operations. Once the transfer is effective Oct. 1, it is expected available grants and agency money to operate the hospital could increase by $4 million per year.

"This is a great step toward building a comprehensive health care system that will not only benefit Cherokees, but all American Indians who use the services of W.W. Hastings," Principal Chief Chad Smith said. "By working together, we have the opportunity to create the best health care system in northeastern Oklahoma."

The hospital, which employs about 600, serves Indian tribes mostly in Sequoyah, Muskogee, Cherokee, Adair and McIntosh counties, although patients also come from as far away as Texas, Missouri and Texas.

Council plans call for the Cherokee Nation to construct five new buildings on tribally owned land near the 133,000-square-foot hospital, including a surgery center, doctors' offices, medical storage and a health programs building.

"It's been my pleasure to work at Hastings for the past five years, and I look forward to working more closely with the physicians," Podiatry Director Dr. David Randall said. "I look forward to being able to utilize the increased resources that the Cherokee Nation will be able to provide to the hospital. I think the change will be a good thing."

Martha Mathis, a Cherokee Nation nurse stationed at Hastings, has seen renderings of how the hospital was originally envisioned. She said the federal government has promised for years to make additions to Hastings but failed to deliver.

"Now, I might actually get to see a lot of these additions come to pass. I'm very proud the Cherokee Nation is assuming operations of the hospital, and eventually others will, too," she said.

Originally published by Brian Brus.

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