Cherokee Nation to build Muskogee clinic

Wednesday, January 5th 2005, 10:06 am
By: News On 6

MUSKOGEE, Okla. (AP) -- The Cherokee Nation announced Wednesday it will build a new Indian health clinic in Muskogee to help ease the strain on other eastern Oklahoma health centers.

The tribe will pay for construction costs of the 82,000-square-foot clinic, which will be operated by Indian Health Services as part of a joint venture, Chief Chad Smith said.

It will employ more than 200 people and is expected to be operating by the end of 2006.

The new clinic will help reduce overcrowding at the Cherokee Nation's clinic in Sallisaw, Claremore Indian Hospital and in particular the IHS Hastings Indian Medical Center in Tahlequah "which sometimes has more patients than it can handle," Smith said.

"This is a huge jump forward for the quality of health care for our citizens," he said, adding that it will affect not only Muskogee but "every community in northeastern Oklahoma that has an IHS facility or Cherokee Nation clinic."

The Cherokee Nation operates eight clinics, including a smaller one in Muskogee that now serves only women and children. The new clinic will be twice the size of any other.

Hastings Indian Medical Center officials estimate the new clinic will take care of 16 percent of its patient load.

A Muskogee clinic already was a known need when the hospital opened in 1984, but Congress never allocated funds for it, said Edwin McLemore, chief executive officer of the Tahlequah hospital.

The hospital, which handles about 250,000 patient visits a year, has waiting lists for dental services, outpatient surgery, diagnostic tests, immunizations and the assignment of primary care physicians, he said.

"We hope to be able to make better use of the resources we have with the relief Muskogee will provide," McLemore said. "We certainly applaud the Cherokee Nation."

The construction costs of the new Muskogee clinic could total an estimated $20 million, Smith said. The clinic will be built on tribal land.

IHS will pay for the continued operation of the facility, which could cost $17 million a year, the tribe said.

The new clinic will offer a wide range of outpatient services to all American Indians, including medical, dental, eye and behavioral health care.

"This is a godsend for the Cherokees and other Native Americans in the area," said Don Garvin, a tribal council member who represents Muskogee, McIntosh and Wagoner counties.

"One of the biggest benefits is that people wont have to drive all the way to Tahlequah or Claremore," he said.