Tribe to Build OK Clinic, County Votes on Tax for New Jail

Sat January 22, 2005 - West Edition
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MUSKOGEE, OK (AP) The Cherokee Nation announced it will build a new Indian health clinic in Muskogee to help ease the strain on other eastern Oklahoma health centers.

The tribe will pay for construction costs of the 82,000-sq.-ft. clinic, which will be operated by Indian Health Services as part of a joint venture, Chief Chad Smith said.

It will employ more than 200 people and is expected to be operating by the end of 2006.

The new clinic will help reduce overcrowding at the Cherokee Nation’s clinic in Sallisaw, Claremore Indian Hospital and in particular the IHS Hastings Indian Medical Center in Tahlequah, “which sometimes has more patients than it can handle,” Smith said.

“This is a huge jump forward for the quality of health care for our citizens,” he said, adding that it will affect not only Muskogee but “every community in northeastern Oklahoma that has an IHS facility or Cherokee Nation clinic.”

The Cherokee Nation operates eight clinics, including a smaller one in Muskogee that now serves only women and children. The new clinic will be twice the size of any other.

Hastings Indian Medical Center officials estimate the new clinic will take care of 16 percent of its patient load.

A Muskogee clinic already was a known need when the hospital opened in 1984, but Congress never allocated funds for it, said Edwin McLemore, chief executive officer of the Tahlequah hospital.

The hospital, which handles about 250,000 patient visits a year, has waiting lists for dental services, outpatient surgery, diagnostic tests, immunizations and the assignment of primary care physicians, he said.

“We hope to be able to make better use of the resources we have with the relief Muskogee will provide,” McLemore said. “We certainly applaud the Cherokee Nation.”

The construction costs of the new Muskogee clinic could total an estimated $20 million, Smith said. The clinic will be built on tribal land.

IHS will pay for the continued operation of the facility, which could cost $17 million a year, the tribe said.

The new clinic will offer a wide range of outpatient services to all American Indians, including medical, dental, eye and behavioral health care.

“This is a godsend for the Cherokees and other Native Americans in the area,” said Don Garvin, a tribal council member who represents Muskogee, McIntosh and Wagoner counties.

“One of the biggest benefits is that people wont have to drive all the way to Tahlequah or Claremore,” he said.

Construction of New Jail Uncertain

Caddo County officials say they are concerned that turmoil surrounding financing of a new jail in neighboring Grady County could affect efforts to finance their new $10 million jail.

“I’m sure we’ve been hurt by what’s going on in Grady County,” Caddo County Sheriff Gene Cain said. “Heck, I bet every county in the country has, especially in Oklahoma. We’ll just have to wait and see how much.”

Grady county issued $17.5 million in bonds to build a four-story jail and 62-bed annex, expecting revenue from state and federal prisoners to make bond payments.

The bonds were purchased with promises that the extra beds could be leased by the county at profitable rates, an idea touted by Missouri architect Lawrence Goldberg. A grand jury later concluded the county’s bed lease estimates had been inflated.

Grady County voters twice defeated proposed sales taxes for the jail project before the industrial authority decided to issue revenue bonds. They also rejected a sales tax to bail out the county when it could not make bond payments.

Goldberg did the preliminary architectural designs for Caddo County’s new jail, but Grady county commissioner Craig Gibson said Goldberg “is completely out of the picture.”

Gibson said he hopes voters will focus on the problems created by the county’s antiquated jail.

“We’re overcrowded,” he said. “Our capacity is 75. A couple of weeks ago I went down to the jail and they had 130 [prisoners] in there. I think that speaks for itself.”

Cain said a new jail will hold between 150 and 185 prisoners.

If approved, half of a penny sales tax increase will be earmarked for construction with the balance set aside for maintenance and operational costs for 20 years.

Caddo’s jail tax election is among several county and municipal tax and bond issues that appeared on local ballots on Jan. 4.