STILWELL, OK – Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr. signed new legislation investing more than $54 million into the Cherokee Nation’s Emergency Medical Services (EMS) to help lower response times, reduce staff strains and improve training for community partners throughout the tribal reservation.
The new law also allows the tribe to provide emergency assistance to help stabilize ambulance service in Adair County, where an existing partnership between the county and a non-tribal ambulance service is set to terminate, leaving the county to create a new ambulance service through Adair County Emergency Medical Services.
The legislation was proposed by Chief Hoskin and Deputy Chief Bryan Warner earlier this month and was passed by the Council of the Cherokee Nation during a special meeting Jan. 27.
“In a health care emergency, we know that the difference between life and death can literally be a matter of seconds or minutes,” said Chief Hoskin. “Cherokee families deserve to be served by emergency medical services that can provide the life-saving response necessary in those urgent scenarios. That’s why Deputy Chief Warner and I proposed this $54 million investment to not only enhance our Cherokee Nation EMS, but to help stabilize Adair County’s EMS as it weathers a critical transition. Then, we can ensure we take a thorough look at which emergency medical services around the 14-county reservation are most in need of support from the Cherokee Nation. Our tribal EMS already provides a high level of care and response across more than 1,000 square miles of our reservation, serving a population of nearly 55,000 community members each day. But the COVID-19 pandemic has made it clear over the past two years that we need to invest more. We will continue to work with Cherokee Nation Health Services and our EMS staff for input as we undertake this vital task in the months ahead.”
The legislation calls for a new ambulance facility for Cherokee Nation EMS in Tahlequah and expansion of the tribe’s fleet of ambulances to help improve speed and effectiveness.
“Chief Hoskin and I are grateful for the dedication and compassion shown by our EMS crews each and every day as they help Cherokee families who are experiencing the uncertainty and stress that comes with health emergencies,” said Deputy Chief Warner. “One important need that has been identified is for a joint training facility where EMS staff, area fire departments, and all of our Cherokee Nation Health Services training needs can be met. This $54 million will help with that goal, and will also ensure we can improve staff living and working quarters. On top of those investments, upgrading EMS equipment will ensure we provide modern, state-of-the-art emergency medical care for Cherokee families for many more years to come.”
Up to $300,000 in operating expenses will be provided to Adair County EMS through May, at which time Adair County EMS believes it will be financially stable following its transition away from a contracted EMS service.
“We had an emergency here in Adair County dealing with one of our most essential services,” said District 8 Tribal Councilor Shawn Crittenden. “Chief and Deputy recognized it and in a huge way, helped. It’s another win for Adair County.”
Along with the funding contribution, Cherokee Nation donated two surplus ambulances to Adair County EMS.
“I am excited for this legislation, as it will impact all of Cherokee Nation and our neighbors within our communities,” said District 7 Tribal Councilor Joshua Sam. “As for Adair County, this has the potential to be life-saving for many of our community members, as it provides our county with the resources to provide effective care to those in an emergency. We were at an impasse with the demands of the current EMS provider, but because of the work of our local officials and our administration, we worked together to provide our county with a great resource that we can all be excited for.”
Cherokee Nation has also provided Adair County with lease space for its emergency management services at a nominal rate at its former office complex in Stilwell.
“Creating Adair County EMS for our citizens is not only exciting but is vital for the welfare and health of Adair County citizens,” said Dianna Yell, with Adair County 911. “In the past few years, the cities in the county have had to rely on outside contracts for EMS services, and there were very few contracted EMS services out there. We have had to worry from year to year about being able to afford the rising cost of the contracts from EMS companies. Having Adair County EMS, we’ll be making sure the people of Adair County receive the emergency medical services they need and deserve. And none of this would be possible without the gracious help of the Cherokee Nation.”
As part of the new legislation, Cherokee Nation’s Emergency Management department will be required to assess emergency medical services across the reservation to identify those services most in need of support from Cherokee Nation. Projects and initiatives in the resolution will be funded through the Cherokee Nation’s COVID-19 Respond, Recover and Rebuild plan along with funds generated by the tribe’s health system.