October 22, 2013
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. —A proposed agreement between Cherokee Nation and Indian Health Service will improve health access and save time for more than 23,000 Cherokee citizens in Craig, Rogers and Tulsa counties.
The Cherokee Nation Tribal Council approved Monday a resolution to negotiate with Indian Health Service to assume outpatient contract health services for all Native Americans in Craig County and all Cherokee citizens in Rogers and northern Tulsa counties.
“Our Cherokees in the northern districts have told me for too long that they aren’t getting their contract health needs fulfilled,” said Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Bill John Baker. “This is a major step in the right direction to helping those families live longer, healthier and happier lives.”
Currently, if Cherokees in those areas need specialized care, such as a heart surgery, cancer treatment or other specialty care, a referral cannot be secured through their Cherokee Nation physician. Instead, patients must drive to Claremore Indian Hospital to obtain that referral.
An agreement between Cherokee Nation and IHS would allow patients in those northern counties to get referrals directly from the Vinita Health Center, Amo Salina Health Center and Will Rogers Nowata Health Center.
“Health care is a cornerstone of my administration. I’ve promised to increase access and improve the quality of care, which is what our Cherokee citizens deserve. This resolution helps fulfill both pledges,” Baker said. “It allows us to approve even more contract health procedures, which will speed up much-needed surgeries and increase access to specialty care.”
The resolution passed unanimously by Speaker Tina Glory-Jordan, Dick Lay, Joe Byrd, David Walkingstick, Don Garvin, David Thornton, Janelle Fullbright, Frankie Hargis, Jodie Fishinghawk, Curtis Snell, Harley Buzzard, Lee Keener, Janees Taylor, Julia Coates and Jack Baker. Councilor Cara Cowan Watts was absent.
Cherokee Nation Health Services will send the request to IHS, and a response is expected within 90 days. If approved, the Cherokee Nation could assume outpatient contract health in those counties as early as January 2014.
“Tribal Council has worked for six months to bring this initiative to our citizens living in the northern counties,” said District 12 Tribal Councilor Dick Lay, who sponsored the resolution. “It’s a giant step forward to equality in health care referrals for all citizens in the Cherokee Nation, regardless of where they live.”
In other business, the Tribal Council voted to reappoint Roberta Gibson, 70, of Okmulgee, to the Cherokee Nation Sequoyah High School Board of Education.
“Sequoyah is home for me, since I was there when it was an orphanage,” Gibson said.
Gibson has more than 30 years of education experience and serves as the president of the Sequoyah Alumni Association. She has a Bachelor of Science in early childhood education from Tougaloo College and a master’s in elementary education from Mississippi State University.
The Tribal Council also passed the following resolutions:
• Authorized the submission of an application to the United States Department of Health & Human Services for FY2014 funding for Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program.
• Authorized the Cherokee Nation Food Distribution Program to submit an application for funding to the United States Department of Agriculture.
Cherokee Nation operates the largest tribal health system in the United States, which supported 1.2 million patient visits in 2012. It consists of eight health centers throughout the Cherokee Nation and W.W. Hastings Hospital in Tahlequah.
The Cherokee Nation Health Services recently added an online pharmacy site for better access for patients and 90-day prescriptions for some medications. The tribe is also using $100 million funded by the tribe’s businesses to build brand-new health centers in Jay and Ochelata, expand Stilwell and Sallisaw health centers, and build a new hospital in Tahlequah.