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Dome caps Cherokee Nation Muskogee Health Center


MUSKOGEE, Okla. - Onlookers held their breath Jan 8 as construction workers carefully placed a 50,000-pound steel dome atop the new Cherokee Nation Muskogee Health Center. Supported by seven brick interior columns, the 64-foot-tall dome, complete with skylight, will create a sunny atrium area for patients to enjoy in the new three-story, 101,000-square-foot facility, which is expected to open in September.

''This will tremendously expand the health care options and range of available care for our citizens,'' said Chad Smith, principal chief of the Cherokee Nation. ''It affects not just Muskogee, but every community in northeastern Oklahoma that has an IHS facility or a Cherokee Nation clinic, because once it opens, it will greatly decrease the overcrowding at other facilities which sometimes have more patients than they can handle.''

New services will include podiatry, physical therapy, dental care and radiology. The lab, public health services, optometry service and pharmacy will all be expanded.

Smith said he is proud of the tribe's new construction projects and makes it a point to visit each new site when the steel goes up. He worked his way through college as a steelworker and still finds construction work enjoyable.

''This building is going to be impressive. The design incorporates our great Cherokee heritage, including columns out front which represent the columns in front of the Cherokee male and female seminaries, which were the first institutions of higher learning in Oklahoma. The seven interior columns supporting the dome represent the seven clans of the Cherokee Nation. Each major structure built by the Cherokee Nation will include an aspect of our heritage and rich history.''

The new facility is expected to reduce the burden on other Cherokee and IHS facilities, especially W.W. Hastings Hospital in Tahlequah, Claremore Indian Hospital, the Cherokee Nation's Redbird Smith Health Center in Sallisaw and the Wilma P. Mankiller Health Center in Stilwell. Approximately 4,500 patients live in the Muskogee area and are current patients of W.W. Hastings Hospital.

''The health center will be the largest Indian outpatient clinic in Oklahoma,'' said Rhonda Cochran, regional clinic director for Cherokee Nation. ''This facility will be an asset to Muskogee by providing health care for residents who were otherwise being treated elsewhere.''