By SCOTT MCKIE B.P.
ONE FEATHER STAFF
SNOWBIRD – Nestled on the top of a hill more than three miles off of a paved road in the Snowbird Community sits the future site of hope for many struggling with addictions. Leaders of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians broke ground on the future Snowbird Residential Treatment Center on Wednesday, July 13.
“This program is going to be a tremendous benefit to the Cherokee community and provide some very important services to some very important members of our community,” said Doug Trantham, Cherokee Indian Hospital Behavioral Health Department manager. “It will help provide the help that they need. I do believe that this is not just going to be a good program but a model program. I think that it’s going to be nationally-known for what it does and something that the Cherokee can be very proud of in years to come.”
The 20-bed facility is being built by Robins & Morton with an estimated completion date in late 2017. The main building lodge is 11,322 square feet with two 4,224 square foot cottages planned – one for men and one for women.
Tribal Council Vice Chairman Brandon Jones shared his own past struggles with addiction with the crowd at Wednesday’s event and commented, “Today is a huge blessing for the community, for the people, and for the folks that are afflicted. At the same time, I realize that it is truly bittersweet. I wish we didn’t have to build this facility in the first place, but it’s a step in the right direction and I’m very proud to be a part of this.”
In candidly sharing his story of past addictions, Vice Chairman Jones said that hope is what is needed. “This facility isn’t going to be a cure-all. People are going to lose this battle. We may only save a few, but it’s worth it. No one plans to be an addict. They simply run into difficult times in life. The drugs we are facing today are evil, and they possess lots of power – more power than we can overcome alone. We need a support system. This facility is a step in the right direction.”
Casey Cooper, Cherokee Indian Hospital CEO, said that the Tribe decided to transfer behavioral health services to the Hospital several years ago, a charge he related that the Hospital staff took very seriously. “We espouse to be committed to community health. We say that we are committed to the health of the community, and we say that our core purpose is founded upon ensuring the prosperity of the next seven generations of the Eastern Band. And, if we neglect behavioral health and substance abuse in our community, then we are simply giving lip service to our mission and our core purpose.”
He said their team got to work and pulled together a proposal. “The state is not going to fix our problem. We’re going to have to fix our own problem, and we’re going to do exactly what we’ve done over the years as a Tribe. We’re going to step up. We’re going to pull together. We’re going to reach out to partners, and we’re going to do stuff that’s never been done.”
Cooper related that they are currently planning a 12-bed recovery intake facility at the site of the old Cherokee Indian Hospital. “As part of this recovery continuum, patients will come into the Emergency Room, and rather than wait there 7-14 days and then have their petition broken and be discharged back into the community, we will admit them to our own unit where they can get a bed and a meal and they can get some meds and some treatment. And, then once they’re stabilized, we’ll move them along this recovery community continuum, and we’ll move them down here to Snowbird to this 20-bed residential treatment facility in the most beautiful part of the country many of us have ever seen.”
Principal Chief Patrick Lambert thanked the tribal leaders who have worked on this project since 2002. “I feel like a lot of times that I am standing on the shoulders of giants. There’s a lot of people that have come before me, before all of us sitting here today, that have had such a large impact.”
He previously worked as a drug and alcohol counselor and commented, “There’s many people here who have a lot of experience in this field, and I think sometimes that we cut ourselves a little short in thinking if we can have an impact…but, if we don’t try, it can’t happen, and if we save one life, then it’s all worth it.”
Cherokee County – Snowbird Rep. Adam Wachacha also thanked those who have worked over the years to make the Treatment Center a reality and related, “The people that’s not been affected by any sort of addiction, find yourself lucky because they’re too many families out there that have lost loved ones, went down this road. I’ve got family members that are currently in jail or currently in rehab themselves.”
He said it’s important for everyone to try to help those in need. “We’ve lost a lot of friends due to drug abuse and alcohol abuse, and it hurts. It really hurts down deep inside to watch as people disappear basically.”