STILWELL, Okla. – The Cherokee Nation on Tuesday unveiled plans to invest more than $10 million in an Adair County health and wellness facility near the Wilma P. Mankiller Health Center in Stilwell, marking the first major project to begin construction under the tribe’s Public Health and Wellness Fund Act signed by Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr. earlier this year.
Construction for the Carson Wellness Center will begin in 2022 on 5 acres of land donated to Cherokee Nation by Jim and Drew Carson of Adair County.
Chief Hoskin also signed an executive order creating the Cherokee Nation Task Force on Physical Wellness to assess the availability and effectiveness of existing physical wellness programs for Cherokee citizens across the tribe’s reservation and to identify new program or facility needs to address gaps that may exist. Canaan Duncan, senior advisor for public health, will lead the task force. Other members include Senior Director of Public Health Lisa Pivec, Cherokee Language Department Executive Director Howard Paden, Cherokee Nation Education Administration Senior Advisor Aaron Emberton, and Community & Cultural Outreach Executive Director Kevin Stretch.
“It is no secret that the Cherokee Nation has endured generational traumas that continue to weigh heavy on our families and our communities. On top of those traumas, far too many Cherokees have more recently fallen victim to the devastating struggles of addiction - and to make matters even worse, 19 months of the COVID-19 pandemic have increased stress, anxiety, and health concerns for many of our families. We must find every opportunity to help those who are struggling with their health and well-being,” said Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr. “Deputy Chief Bryan Warner and I worked with the Council of the Cherokee Nation to secure the Cherokee Nation Public Health and Wellness Fund Act, which we signed into law earlier this year. The Carson Wellness Center in Stilwell will be the first construction project to occur under this legislation which dedicates funds for these specific areas, and I cannot think of a more appropriate way to begin the monumental process of establishing places of health and healing for our citizens throughout the Cherokee Nation Reservation. Cherokees believe health care should treat the whole person, and this historic investment, starting with the Carson Wellness Center and the creation of the Cherokee Nation Task Force on Physical Wellness, will help us achieve a more holistic approach to health care for Cherokees.”
A recent Cherokee Nation Public Health study with a focus on increasing access to physical activity in the Cherokee Nation Reservation identified Adair County as being a priority area. In Fiscal Year 2021, Cherokee Nation Health Services treated more than 2,000 patients in Adair County for physical therapy/rehabilitation, nearly 2,000 diabetic patients, 3,500 patients with hypertension, and nearly 3,800 patients at risk for chronic health conditions.
“Our public and behavioral health teams do a phenomenal job of caring for Cherokee citizens. I’ve said before that they always stay on the cutting edge of innovative treatment, prevention, and wellness efforts, and the Carson Wellness Center is going to give us even more opportunities to better the lives of Adair County citizens for generations to come,” said Deputy Chief Bryan Warner. “This is particularly important as we work toward finally overcoming the COVID-19 pandemic. We know all too well that this virus has had a significant impact on the physical and mental well-being of Cherokees. When we finally feel secure that the pandemic is behind us, those negative impacts to our Cherokee families will still be here. Having this wellness center to help our Cherokee brothers and sisters overcome those barriers here in Adair County will be a game-changer, and this is just the beginning of more announcements to come.”
Plans call for the wellness center to be a two-story building with approximately 50,000 square feet. It will be located on the east side of the Wilma P. Mankiller Health Center.
In his State of the Nation Address in September, Chief Hoskin also called for the replacement of the Tahlequah Male Seminary Rec Center, often referred to as the Markoma fitness center, and also for the tribe to find other opportunities across the reservation to make physical wellness programs available.
“The Chief and Deputy’s vision with a willingness to collaborate with Council and the Cherokee people is really coming to fruition here in Adair County. Health and wellness are the foundation of everything good in the lives of our people. Today is a great day and more to come,” said District 8 Tribal Councilor Shawn Crittenden.
Under the tribe’s Public Health and Wellness Fund Act, 7 percent of funds generated by Cherokee Nation Health Services through third-party revenue is being earmarked to provide substance abuse treatment centers, wellness centers and fitness centers for Cherokee citizens.
“I am very excited to have the opportunity to work with an administration that truly listens to the needs of our people,” said District 7 Tribal Councilor Joshua Sam. “This wellness center will allow our people in Adair County to improve not only their physical health, but help improve the quality of life and allow us to provide opportunities for new careers to our citizens in their own community. I also want to express my esteemed gratitude to the Carson family for the contribution they provided to help make this a reality to our people and Adair County.”
It is estimated that the Cherokee Nation Public Health and Wellness Fund Act will provide an annual investment of between $9 million and $12 million for public health programs like the Carson Wellness Center.
“Drew and I are very glad to be a part of the Cherokee Nation medical services expansion to Adair County,” said Jim Carson. “Donating 5 acres to construct a new health building is exciting. I just think the idea is fabulous and like the original Wilma P. Mankiller Health Center, it’s sorely needed. I have enjoyed working with Chief Hoskin on this, the Cherokee Nation, Deputy Chief Warner, Council members current and former. We thank you for all you’ve done. Cherokee Nation brings things to Adair County we just would not have if it wasn’t for the Cherokee Nation.”
Cherokee Nation’s existing public health programs promote and protect the health of Cherokee Nation citizens and communities. This is accomplished through the tribe’s Male Seminary Recreation Center in Tahlequah, walking groups, cancer education programs, diabetes prevention programs, and nutritional programs for women, infants and children.
Blue River is the architectural firm for the new wellness center in Stilwell.