Cherokee Nation opens new medical center in Vinita
BY MICHAEL OVERALL World Staff Writer
Monday, November 05, 2012
11/05/12 at 7:00 AM
VINITA - With a line of chairs stretching down both sides of a narrow hallway, a young Bill John Baker used to wait for hours to see a doctor.
"It was an all-day event to get any kind of medical service," he said.
"And on top of waiting, a lot of people would have to drive an hour or more just to get to a clinic."
Growing up to become a member of the Cherokee tribal council, Baker sponsored a bill that would set aside 5 percent of casino profits to fund health care.
And like a quarterback running downfield to catch his own pass, Baker signed that legislation into law himself after being elected principal chief last year.
"It's the priority that people wanted," he said. "With health care, if you need it but don't have it, nothing else matters."
As they approach Vinita's famous McDonald's, stretching across Interstate 44 in a giant arch, drivers will also notice a new landmark standing south of the highway.
Locals have started calling it the "Taj Mahal" - a $35 million Cherokee Nation Medical Center that looks more like a luxury resort than a doctors clinic.
Guests enter through a two-story, light-filled atrium. Cherokee art lines the hallways. And patients have sweeping views of Craig County from some of the examination rooms.
It's even available for weddings and reunions.
"Any community in the country would be proud of a facility like this," Baker said.
"We're going to have not just the best clinic system in Indian Country, but one of the best in the nation."
The center will have its official "grand opening" Monday, but hundreds of patients have already been served there since construction ended a few weeks ago.
With a staff of 125, the new facility replaces a store-front clinic that employed just 12 people.
And Vinita's health center is just the first step in an ambitious $80 million plan to revamp and expand Cherokee clinics all across northeastern Oklahoma.
Goals include a new $7 million health center in Bartlesville, a similar new facility in Jay and a 28,000-square-foot expansion to a clinic in Stilwell.
The centerpiece of the plan involves a new $50 million hospital in Tahlequah, the tribe's capital.
"We're saving money in the long run," said Connie Davis, the tribe's executive director of health services.
"We're giving people access to preventative care instead of waiting for a health crisis before seeing a doctor."
American Indians face added health risks
Compared to the general population, American Indians face disproportionate health risks in several areas, including:
Source: U.S. Centers for Disease Control.
- 2.2 times more likely to suffer Sudden Infant Death Syndrome.
- 1.7 times more likely to have diabetes.
- 2.4 times more likely to die from liver disease.
- 1.5 times more likely to die from accidental injuries.
Public reception and tours
4:30 p.m. Monday
Cherokee Nation Vinita Health Center
27371 S. 4410 Road
Original Print Headline: Healthy gains
Michael Overall 918-581-8383
With a sweeping view of part of Craig County out the window, dental assistant Ashley Davis takes care of patient Damian Nightengale at the new Cherokee Nation Medical Center in Vinita. JAMES GIBBARD / Tulsa World
"With health care, if you need it but don't have it, nothing else matters," says Principal Chief Bill John Baker, touring the new Cherokee Nation Medical Center in Vinita. JAMES GIBBARD / Tulsa World
The new Cherokee Nation Medical Center in Vinita. JAMES GIBBARD / Tulsa World
Dental assistant Ashley Davis prepares patient Damian Nightengale from Bartlesville for a panoramic dental X-ray in the dental department at the new Cherokee Nation Medical Center. JAMES GIBBARD / Tulsa World