By SCOTT MCKIE B.P.
ONE FEATHER STAFF
Principal Chief Michell Hicks and Cherokee Indian Hospital CEO Casey Cooper signed a loan note to acquire the funding for the new hospital in a ceremony at the Hospital on Wednesday, Oct. 16. The 10-year note for $75 million is being financed at a rate of 1.95 percent through First Citizens Bank.
“It’s another proud day for our Tribe,” said Chief Hicks. “We’ve made a lot of progress, and we’re progressing in a smart way and I just really appreciate all of the work that’s been done.”
He praised the work of Yellowhill Rep. David Wolfe who serves as the Tribal Council representative on the EBCI Health Board. “This thing got off the tracks several times, but he remained steady and brought it back on track.”
Chief Hicks commented that the new Hospital will help tribal members for years to come. “I’m just glad it has worked out. I appreciate all of the work from the Hospital staff and all of the people here. It’s going to help us create stronger partnerships throughout western North Carolina and a better health facility for the needs of our people.”
Rep. Wolfe said that this will be an expandable project that will account for the health care needs of the Tribe 20 to 25 years down the road. “Congratulations to the Hospital Board and to the Hospital staff here and especially the people that will benefit from this access to the Hospital…I think people will be able to come here and get the access that they need and that’s going to mean a lot the patients here.”
Cooper related that there isn’t a specific date for a groundbreaking on the new hospital yet, but he did say the target date for opening the new facility is spring 2016. “What this means for the Cherokee Indian Hospital Authority is that the leadership of the Tribe supports the health care services, the Cherokee Indian Hospital, and it supports making investments in the health of the population. Having a new facility that is tribally-constructed, tribally-managed and community-owned is exactly the kind of healing that needs to take place here.”
Cory Blankenship, tribal treasurer within the EBCI Office of Budget & Finance, noted that the loan is being provided as a tax-exempt note. “It makes any proceeds that we pay back to the bank tax-free to the bank, and because the bank doesn’t have to pay taxes on it, we’re able to secure a better rate. So, we’ve been able to secure a rate of 1.95 percent when typically you’d be looking at a rate of anywhere from 4-6 percent on this amount of money.”
“I think it speaks volumes on the Tribe’s financial position in that we don’t have to have a syndicated loan. We can go directly to one source and that is our partner, First Citizens Bank, and get every bit of the financing that we need for this project and we can secure it at a rate below 2 percent.”
Blankenship said that helps the Tribe’s cash flow position because “rather than use the Tribe’s cash reserves, we’re using the bank’s cash reserves to finance this project”.
Chief Hicks also spoke highly of First Citizens, “This is a North Carolina bank that has proven they are a true partner to the Eastern Band and we appreciate them.”