By SCOTT MCKIE B.P.
ONE FEATHER STAFF
Four years ago, it was decided by the Health Board that it would be more feasible to build a completely new Cherokee Indian Hospital than try to remodel the current one. Now, a site has been selected for the new facility.
Tribal Council approved a site known as the Long Blanket Tract which is adjacent to the current facility. This is the same tract that was originally slated for the Wal-Mart which didn’t come to fruition.
Council approved a resolution unanimously last month that will “allow the CIHA (Cherokee Indian Hospital Authority) to survey 10.5 acres of the existing property, identified as Part of Parcel No. 60-A in the Upper Cherokee Community, and subsequently approve the transfer of that new parcel of land to the CIHA for the purposes of constructing a new hospital facility.”
Casey Cooper, Cherokee Indian Hospital CEO, related that an exact price tag for the new facility has not been established yet, but he estimates it will cost between $50 -65 million. He said that recent forecasts show the hospital will need 140,000 square feet in order to handle the patient load in the next 12-15 years. The current hospital is around 85,000 square feet.
“It’s a significant increase,” said Cooper who noted that in using comparables he feels the construction cost of the 140,000 square foot facility will be around $300-325 per square foot.
He said it is too early in the process to be more exact with a price as the final cost will be dependent on other factors including equipment costs and furnishings.
“The actual construction phase of this could be 24 months or less, but we believe we are a year or close to two years to really getting to breaking ground and starting the construction part of it. There’s a lot of work to do between now and then.”
Some of that work will involve: programming for the new facility, schematic design, final design, and development of construction documents.
“One of the things that is going to be absolutely vital is to have community input sessions,” said Cooper. “We really want to make sure that we’re resonating with the community and what the community really wants out of this facility. It’s the community’s facility.”
“We want to get a lot of input from the community to ensure that what we finish with is a facility that actually promotes healing. We don’t want sick patients to come to a facility that’s more stressful.”
Cooper said that between now and February 2013, they are hoping to do more analysis on the site including geological surveys and engineering assessments. He is also hopeful that within that time frame, they can get more exact cost estimates and develop a financing strategy for the project.
“Once we have all of that in place, we are full steam ahead.”
Cooper said that the facility is not the only positive change occurring at Cherokee Indian Hospital.
“We’re advancing a strategy that organizes our workflow and our primary care teams. We’re organizing that now in the hopes of having our organizational processes and our organizational culture where we want it to be so that the new facility matches that.”
These changes will bring “incremental” additions in staff over the next few years to fully meet the needs of the new processes and facility. “The new facility is not a precursor to us adding new staff,” said Cooper. “We’re doing that now. The thing that the new facility will do is give us the flexibility to bring back some of the general specialties that the community wants.”
Cooper added, “The most fundamental purpose that we have is to improve the health of the population. We could be successful in the implementation of technology and not improve the community’s health. We could be really, really good with case management services of the terminally ill and not improve the public’s health. We could be profitable and still be unsuccessful with population health.”
“The changes that we’re making to primary care, I am convinced are going to help us to finally improve the population’s health.”
Cooper said he thinks the new processes will help with the management of those patients with chronic diseases currently and help them live longer and healthier lives.
He said a new facility will be another step for the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians in self-determination as well. “I think having a new facility that belongs to the people, is built by the people for the people is going to do tremendous things in the healing process.”
Carmaleta Monteith, Cherokee Indian Hospital Authority governing board, commented, ‘There is much excitement centered around the building of a new hospital that will enable the community to receive the quality of service they deserve. The crowded space in the current hospital greatly affects the quality of service to our customers as well as their safety. The overcrowdedness we now experience creates a stressful environment for the people we serve as well as the employees who serve them.”
She continued, “With a new, well designed facility, waiting areas will allow for the separation of well customers from ill customers and children from the adult population. In addition, the new facility will allow for easier access to services, privacy, and expanded services. The limited and inconvenient parking will be improved to provide for easier access to the departments and services sought by the customers. With more space to provide services, privacy is dramatically enhanced. By providing expanded services with new and improved technology, we will be able to provide many services so that customers will not have to travel out of Cherokee. One of the greatest improvements we will provide is for our local people to be proud of a facility that they will help design and make recommendations for the new services to be delivered.”