By SCOTT MCKIE B.P.
ONE FEATHER STAFF
A long-term care campus, to serve the needs of the elders of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, is now one step closer to coming to fruition. Tribal leaders and health officials discussed numerous plans for the campus during a work session on Thursday, July 23 and came up with one they are moving forward with.
“I want to thank you for all of your input and your advocacy for the elders of this community that need a safe place to be in their later years,” Casey Cooper, Cherokee Indian Hospital Authority (CIHA) chief executive officer, said following an hour of discussion. “And, we really appreciate your concern that was expressed several times here about their safety and their ability to access the services that they need at the hospital.”
He added, “It feels like there is general enthusiasm on Option 6 with the understanding that option 6 could be the most financially-challenging, could be logistically-challenging because of the substation. If those challenges could be overcome, it sounds like that is the preferred option.”
According to information provided by the CIHA, Option 6 could be built for an estimated $193,669,684 and would include the following amenities: Skilled Nursing and Memory Care ($77,182,040), Adult Day Care ($5,497,336), Independent Living (apartments) and Amenities ($42,619,772), Dialysis Center ($6,777,420), Assisted Living ($14,457,924), Independent Living Cottages ($10,745,680), and Site Work ($38,779,560).
Within each option, the following amenities are planned: Skilled Nursing, 100 beds; Memory Care, 24 beds; Assisted Living, 24 apartments; and Independent Living, 18 cottages and 42 apartments.
Of the finances, Cooper noted, “As we are studying the financial feasibility of it, if its determined that we need to scale back and just focus on the high-priority elements first, we can do that.”
A presentation was given during the meeting by Christie Adams, McMillan Pazdan Smith Architecture healthcare segment leader. She referenced two community forums that were held last summer (Aug. 19, 2019 at Cherokee Indian Hospital and Sept. 10, 2019 at Tsali Care Center) and said discussions at those forums included whether there would be independent living cottages, independent living apartments, skilled nursing facility, a replacement for Tsali Care, and discussions about Tsali Manor replacement at the site so that everybody was in a community.
“The community, by far, requests and would like to see all private rooms at the facility, private showers,” said Adams. “It is a really big deal not to have to go down to a community shower but to do that in your own room.”
She further noted, “The vision of the long-term care facility is connectivity to the hospital. That was a really big conversation in the community forums…”
Following the community forums, Adams and her colleagues compiled the data and formulated the top priorities people wanted to see in the campus including: connectivity to hospital, 20 percent; adjacencies (close parking, centralized amenities), 20 percent; safety, 20 percent; accessible open spaces, 15 percent; views, 10 percent; future expansion potential, 5 percent; environmental impact, 5 percent; and logistics/schedule, 5 percent.
Wolftown Rep. Chelsea Saunooke questioned how the facility would be made safe for elders.
Damon Lambert, CIHA director of engineering, replied, “We actually had a lot of discussion in the community forums about that. We had elders that came to the forums that actually gave us very bad stories about experiences that had happened at Tsali Manor or HIP Homes. So, we did try to think about that a lot in the layout. The independent living cottages and apartment residents have a lot more freedom and are a lot more mobile, so we thought about where we’d place those on site because they’ll have more traffic that goes freely in and out versus the skilled nursing home which is more secure because you’d have locked entrances and cameras.”
Following the decision to pursue Option 6, various leaders expressed their support for the project.
Tribal Council Chairman Adam Wachacha praised the efforts of Cooper and said, “I appreciate your team and all of your hard work in getting this plan in place and taking the feedback from the community and bringing it here before Council.”
Wolftown Rep. Bo Crowe commented, “Either one of them (options), I’m good with. I just want to see the project get started.”
Rep. Chelsea Saunooke added, “I think this is a great opportunity to keep our people connected to the community. I think that’s huge. I do hope that, in this process, you are using the Cherokee Core Values because those were developed by community members and elders as well.”
Cooper concluded his comments at the meeting by saying, “The next big hurdle is to look at some options to determine the financial feasibility of the project, and so we’ll stay focused on that.”