An investment in doctors and health professionals may benefit tens of thousands of people across the area. The Cherokee Nation is significantly increasing salaries for doctors and others at tribal health centers across Northeastern Oklahoma.
The salaries for those health professionals will jump 11 percent. It's obviously good news for them, but it's also expected to be positive for patients.
Rick Thompson is a teacher and Cherokee tribal member who is feeling a little under the weather, so he came to see a doctor at the Cherokee Health Clinic in Muskogee. He's impressed with how far tribal health facilities have come over the years and thinks the future is even brighter.
"You can get in really, really quick. Before, if you had an appointment at 10, it may be two o'clock. And I can see with the better facilities, better care and better people involved, it's become quicker," said Muskogee resident Rick Thompson.
The Cherokee Nation is raising salaries 11 percent for more than 200 of its employees at health facilities: doctors, dentists, pharmacists and physicians assistants. Dr. Johnson Gourd, a primary care physician, says it will help in recruitment of health care professionals.
"Being more rural, it's a little harder to recruit to some of the areas anyway so certainly, increases in salary will go a long way to help us achieve a better recruitment rate," said Dr. Johnson Gourd, M.D.
Not only is the new pay plan expected to help with recruitment, but also retention of employees at health facilities operated by the Cherokee Nation in eight different communities:
"More doctors, doctors that are able to stay, or providers in general," Gourd said.
Those facilities help tens of thousands of tribal members like Karmen Campbell, whose 3-year-old little girl Blakely isn't feeling well.
"She's been running a fever, coughing and throwing up. Just a mess," said Wagoner resident Karmen Campbell.
Campbell thinks the higher salaries will translate into shorter waiting times to see doctors and more consistency with care.
"Just wait times and knowing who you are going to see," she said. "That's a huge thing. actually having a doctor."
The Cherokee Nation hopes the increased compensation will make its facilities more competitive with other area hospitals. The 11 percent pay increase will be phased into those health care professionals' paychecks on February 10th.