By SCOTT MCKIE B.P.
One Feather Asst. Editor
CHEROKEE, N.C. – Ground was broken on the chilly morning of Thursday, Oct. 20 on a facility that will serve generations of members of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians (EBCI). The new Tsali Care Center, a long-term care facility, is being built on land adjacent to the current Cherokee Indian Hospital and is slated to be completed by November 2024.
The new Center will be two levels and will feature 120 private rooms, up from the 72 beds at the current facility, and will be broken into 80 skilled nursing rooms and 40 assisted living and memory care rooms. A dialysis building will be attached to the Center for more convenience for the residents.
“I’d like to first recognize all the wonderful staff that work at the Tsali Care Center,” Casey Cooper, Cherokee Indian Hospital Authority chief executive officer, said as he welcomed everyone to the event. “The leadership and the staff, thank you so much for what you do and for taking care of the most precious resource this Tribe has and that, of course, is our elders.”
He praised EBCI tribal leadership for the project stating, “We can’t thank Tribal Council enough for their leadership on this project. As a matter of fact, (Wolftown Rep.) Bo Crowe and (Tribal Council Vice Chairman) Albert Rose and Dr. Winchester were pushing really, really hard on this project, well before the rest of us and really thought that we could pull it off. So, thank you for challenging us with such a noble vision and aspiration.”
Cooper added, “It takes vision and aspiration. It takes a challenge like Bo, Albert, and Dr. Winchester brought to us. It takes support. It takes the financial resources. It takes a committed group of people. But, it also takes really, really, good partners. We’ve been very blessed on some of our large capital projects to have a design firm that has really gone out of the way to provide us with facilities that we can be really proud of and that will leave quite an impressive legacy in this community.”
Multiple companies are working on this project including: master planning and architecture – McMillan Pazdan Smith Architecture, general contractor/builder – Robins & Morton, structural/MEP – Ska Consulting Engineers, civil engineer – CDC (Civil Design Concepts, PA), landscape – LandArt Landscape Architecture, and kitchen design – Camacho.
He went on to state his excitement for the project, “We’re going to be building you a $120 million facility with 120 rooms. It’s going to be absolutely magnificent, two stories with four courtyards altogether and a big, beautiful center courtyard, and private rooms so that everybody has their own exterior window. Beautiful dining areas designed around communities of the building. And, we’re doing this all for you (elders) because we love you, because you’re special, and because you deserve it.”
Vice Chief Alan B. Ensley commented, “I just want to say it’s an honor to be here…me and Vickie (Bradley, secretary of EBCI Public Health and Human Services) have worked on this project for several years and it’s hard to find the property and the land to build the facility as big as what we’re going to build here.”
He said usage of the property where the Center is being constructed has been discussed for years. “Vice Chief Gerard Parker had a vision to level this mountain years ago and that was in the late or mid-90s. He said one of these days if we keep moving enough dirt to fill all these other projects, we’ll have a piece of property that we can build something that can benefit the entire Tribe. So, with Gerard Parker’s vision, today we’re going to have a great facility here.”
Tribal Council Chairman Richard French said, “It’s a great day to be here to have this great facility built for our people here on the Boundary. I’d like to thank Bo, Albert, and Dr. Winchester for that resolution for Tribal Council to carry out the resolution. This is going to be a great facility to take care of our people and that’s what we’re here for – to take care of our people. A lot of people around Indian Country watch what we do, and they compliment us on how we take care of our people.”
Dr. Blythe Winchester, Tsali Care medical director, spoke of the rise in the population of seniors. “We are experiencing an unprecedented growth in those reaching older age. By 2030, 1 in 6 people in the world will be aged 60 years or older. The number of persons aged 80 years or older is expected to triple between 2020 and 2050. For me, this is very exciting and I welcome this so-called ‘Silver Tsunami’ that we are experiencing.”
She said that in mainstream society, aging is not always looked at with favor. “Within our Native communities as sovereign nations, our traditions, roots, and knowledge help us to know better. People who have accumulated lifetimes of experience are the most knowledgeable and the most valuable. They have been through things that have allowed them to have the best perspective possible about the world around them.”
Dr. Winchester added, “I work as a geriatrician here because I know that having knowledge and training about the complexities of aging is important to support the people who are the reason we are here. I want to do this work because they deserve the best – the best community, the best services, the best advocates, the best of everything…we have excellent tribal services to allow people to age in place for as long as possible, but for some having extra assistance in your day-to-day life is what will help you age well and stay safe.”
She said the new Center will bring a new sense of community to the facility. “It’s very exciting to be developing an entire community where people who need additional assistance can receive it along a continuum of needs. And, not all of the people who have those needs are older. Younger people also sometimes end up in a place of needing additional care. For both the younger and older people I’m so excited that this beautiful community will provide state-of-the-art services and facilities to support them.”
Principal Chief Richard G. Sneed spoke last noting, “Today is a very special day. This project is one that has been needed for some time and I’m honored to be here with you today to officially break ground for the Cherokee Senior Assistance Campus.”
“It’s been stated that you can learn much about a people by the way they treat their children and the elderly. Without a doubt, our values as Cherokee people teach us to honor our elders and to care for them not only with our words by speaking respectfully and listening to their wisdom, but also by our actions. It’s not enough to say that we honor our elders. Our actions must reflect our honor for them. This project will be the crowning achievement of our healthcare system where we make available to our elder community a state-of-the-art senior care facility where elders can live in a caring community and receive the necessary assistance and medical care that they deserve.”