By SCOTT MCKIE B.P.
One Feather Asst. Editor
CHEROKEE, N.C. – The chief executive officer of the Cherokee Indian Hospital Authority has received the highest honor from the State of North Carolina. Casey Cooper, a member of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians (EBCI), received The Order of the Long Leaf Pine Award during a ceremony on Saturday, July 15 during the annual Hospital Gala at Harrah’s Cherokee Casino Resort.
According to information from The Order of the Long Leaf Pine Society, the award has been given since 1963 by North Carolina governors to persons “who have made significant contributions to the state and their communities through their exemplary service and exceptional accomplishments”.
Cooper stated, “Thank you to Governor Cooper for this honor and the recognition of the last 30 years of my career in health care serving not only the Eastern Band of the Cherokee Indians, but North Carolina as a whole. While the Order of the Long Leaf Pine serves to recognize all accomplishments throughout my career, I would be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge that many of those things have been possible because of the combined effort of many people throughout North Carolina – from all the folks who saw the benefits of closing the health insurance coverage gap for North Carolina residents to regional leaders like Dogwood Health Trust and WCU who spend every ounce of their efforts to build up our friends and neighbors in Western North Carolina.”
He went on to say, “To my fellow tribal members who helped lead the charge for the Cherokee Indian Hospital to operate independently through the self-determination act – all with the goal to elevate the health of a population and reduce health disparities, through these partnerships my career has been more than just building a health system. It’s all about lifting families out of poverty and providing equitable access to health care, especially in our rural communities. I am incredibly grateful to have received this award and appreciate Senator Corbin and my other colleagues for submitting nominations to the state and for surprising me with it on Saturday night in front of my friends, colleagues and most importantly, my family.”
The award was presented to Cooper, on behalf of Gov. Roy Cooper, by State Sen. Kevin Corbin (R-District 50) who said in his speech, “His recent advocacy to achieve (Medicaid) expansion is just the latest monumental change he worked for. In fact, Casey Cooper has dedicated his entire life to improving the health and well-being of North Carolinians. As an enrolled member of the EBCI, Mr. Cooper has been involved in American Indian health care for more than three decades.”
He added, “Not only has Mr. Cooper spent the bulk of his life addressing health-related issues in his community, he has used his knowledge and experience to advocate for and be committed to many regional, state, and national issues such as serving as a member of the Western Carolina Health Network, the United South and Eastern Tribes Health Committee, Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services Tribal Technical Advocacy Group, North Carolina Medical Care Advisory Committee, Indian Health Service Facilities Appropriation Advisory Board, MAHEC Board of Directors, the Dogwood Health Board of Trustees, and the American Hospital Association Regional Policy Board.”
Multiple officials sent in letters in support of Cooper’s award nomination.
Principal Chief Richard G. Sneed wrote, “Under his leadership, Cherokee Indian Hospital has become one of the most robust healthcare systems in the state. Casey is a caring and compassionate servant leader who leads with his heart. His dedication to our people, his staff, our Tribe, and the region, has improved the lives of countless people. Casey led the charge on Medicaid expansion by taking time to travel around western North Carolina to educate the public and local officials on the need to support expansion for all North Carolinians. His humility, character, and values are to be emulated by us all.”
John F.A.V. Cecil, Dogwood Health Trust Board chair, and Susan Mims, MD, MPH, chief executive officer of Dogwood Health Trust, sent in a joint letter of support. They wrote, “In every role, Mr. Cooper combines the vision and wisdom of an elder statesman with seemingly ceaseless energy. His leadership is gentle and quiet, but he thinks deeply, asks tough but important questions of himself and the organizations he serves and is a timeless advocate for those who cannot help themselves. He raises complex and thorny issues with grace and clarity and always infuses the conversation with an underlying message of hope.”
Kelli R. Brown, Western Carolina University chancellor, wrote, “He strongly believes in the power of education and is dedicated to ensuring that all citizens of western North Carolina have the same advantages and opportunities as others across North Carolina. He is steadfast in his efforts to connect the many organizations, beyond healthcare, that collectively work together for the overall health of a community – from education to local government to business and industry. It’s very clear that Mr. Cooper has made a difference to all who have worked with him. He is a positive presence for faculty, staff, and students on campus and the EBCI members at the hospital and in the community.”
Peg O’Connell, Care4Carolina chair, wrote about Cooper’s dedication to Medicaid expansion. “Casey recognized the many misconceptions that were held about this issue and was determined to bring his personal leadership and sound information to his neighboring governing bodies…Casey’s determination to create healthcare access across North Carolina and the resulting endorsements by local governments across western North Carolina was the turning point for the issue of Medicaid expansion in North Carolina.”