TAHLEQUAH, Okla. - The Cherokee Nation Health System sees 1.2 million patient visits every year. Last year 400,000 of those visits were at Hastings Hospital in Tahlequah, a facility designed to accommodate only 60,000 visits a year.
"We end up with extended waiting times in some of our clinics," said hospital CEO Brian Hail. "Patients will give up and leave the clinics and go seek care else where."
Jeremy Hamby visits Hastings for all his healthcare needs and has seen those wait times first hand.
"It's always packed," Hamby said. "I usually schedule half a day -- three to four hours for a visit. It has taken that long before."
"This is a small community," Hail said. "We serve people that we are related too, that we are friends with. So there is a lot of accountability there within our community. We want to do the best we can for the people we serve."
The Cherokee Nation is spending $53 million on improvements and the expansion of Hastings hospital. Hail believes the overhaul will shorten wait times for patients and improve service.
The other half of the money be will spent at tribal health care facilities in Ochelata, Jay, Sallisaw and Stillwell.
Chief Bill John Baker says the tribe has known for a long time that healthcare was under funded, but he says they have always waited for federal dollars or partnerships to fix the problem.
"This is the first time that we have really taken Cherokee Nation Resources and said we are going to fix the problem ourselves," Baker said.
Hail says it's not just local Cherokee Tribe members who will benefit from the improvements. He says 15 percent of the patients they see in Tahlequah are from other tribes -- even travel to Tahlequah from other states.
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