By SCOTT MCKIE B.P.
ONE FEATHER STAFF
A project to aid those in need of immediate help from mental health or addiction issues will begin soon thanks to funding approved by Tribal Council. The design phase of the Crisis Stabilization Unit, which will be located at the old Cherokee Indian Hospital site and is part of the hospital’s Phase II Renovation, was approved during Annual Council on Tuesday, Oct. 11 to the tune of $1.7 million.
Following the vote on Tuesday, Lt. Col. (Ret.) Kina Swayney, a member of the Cherokee Civil Action Team which submitted the legislation, commented, “We are pleased with Council’s decision to move forward with the stabilization unit. As a result of Mr. Casey Cooper’s quick response, we were able to move the proposal through the Health Board and several working groups to finally get it before Council for decision. This is yet another step toward providing complete care for our own people so we’re not relying on overcrowded state systems.”
Phase IIA was the design selected following several Health Board meetings and a Council Work Session. The facility will include 15 beds, 12 of which will be dedicated mostly to substance abuse patients with the remaining three for high acuity patients. The total budget for the project is $23.8 million which includes $12.4 for construction, $1.7 million for design and consultants, as well as $4 million for contingency and escalation costs.
Lt. Col. Swayney added, “Our sovereign status gives us the capability to create a program that meets our cultural and spiritual needs while keeping the patient here, close to family. We are essentially ‘taking care of our own’. This unit will complete the continuum of care Cooper spoke of and that we so desperately need. This is part of our team’s overall plan to do something about the drug epidemic. Healing alone will not solve the problem.”
Cooper, Cherokee Indian Hospital CEO, told Tribal Council on Tuesday, “What we have now, at this point, is a conceptual budget based on CBRE, the project management firm…the $1.7 million is a percentage of the estimate project cost which is based on industry-standard multiples for the design percentage of total construction or total project cost.”
Principal Chief Patrick Lambert asked, “So, this is actually approval for the $23 million basically because if we’re going to spend $1.7 (million) to design it, we’re not going to back up after that point and not build it, I would assume? This is actually approval for the Crisis Center.”
He reminded Tribal Council that the tribal government is currently under a continuing resolution for FY206 budgets as the FY2017 budgets have not been passed yet. “I’m just trying to make sure we keep everything in line.”
Yellowhill Rep. B. Ensley made a motion to amend the resolution so that the $1.7 million comes out of the Endowment #2 line item of the FY17 budget to keep it compliance with the current continuing budget resolution. That amendment was passed. This legislation will not go into effect though until the 2017 budget is passed.
During discussion on the legislation, Big Cove Rep. Teresa McCoy stated, “Addiction, granted is a physical thing, is also a mental issue, and we need the people here who are trained that can give that type of assistance to the persons with addictions to show them that they have strength, there is hope, and that they can overcome this.”
She questioned the resolution and said, “I’m going to support this legislation, but I don’t know if I’m in favor of assisting them (Cherokee Indian Hospital) with tribal funding right now. They have enough money. If they want to do a study on a new building for some of the things they forgot to do, then they’ve got funding, and they need to do this.”
Tribal Council Chairman Bill Taylor said the Crisis Unit is greatly needed so that people struggling with mental health or addiction issues don’t fall between the cracks on the treatment continuum. “When they come in, and they’re ready to go out, we don’t have that place to put them for two or three weeks until they can get them a bed somewhere. We’re going to build our facility down in Snowbird…we’ve got to have a place for them to stay for two to three weeks until we can get them in a facility. I think that’s what this project is going to do so I’m in full support of it.”
The Tribe broke ground on the Snowbird Residential Treatment Center on July 13. 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 gave an update on the construction of the Treatment Center on Tuesday. “They’re up there working every single day. I take my four-wheeler up there probably three to four times a week. The site where we actually had the ceremony that day is completely leveled out. They’re starting to put the culverts in for the stream work there…it doesn’t even look like the same place we went to that day…they’re working really fast. I think it’s ahead of schedule.”
Lt. Col. Swayney told the One Feather she and her team are optimistic about the future, but there is work to be done to help solve the drug issue. “Our next step is to strengthen our laws to protect our people, especially where children and elders are involved. We’ve got to hold people accountable. Some of the proposals we’re considering are felony murder charges for someone selling to an individual who dies from an overdose and felony child abuse for mothers who give birth to addicted babies if they’ve refused treatment.”
She said banishment and disenrollment are harsh penalties. “But, we must not take it off the table. We must consider it as a last resort, especially since they will have all the support and treatments available to them.”
Lt. Col. Swayney said the battle against drugs must start at the youth level. “The Civil Action Team sponsored a presentation to the high school and middle school on Oct. 4. Our message was one of empowerment – be an individual, strong, brave, and have the courage to stand alone. Be a ‘Rez Changer’. The battle against drugs begins and ends with each one of us.”