The Cherokee Nation is stronger when our people have healthy bodies and minds. Too many Cherokees suffer from health issues that could be exponentially improved with easier access to exercise, healthy eating, and support for their mental well-being. Within our Tribal Health System at Cherokee Nation, we know it is much healthier and less expensive to address these issues before they become a medical emergency.
Spurred on by this philosophy, Deputy Chief Bryan Warner and I proposed the Cherokee Nation Public Health and Welfare Fund Act last year. The law, passed by the Council of the Cherokee Nation, allows the tribe to spend millions each year on wellness centers and addiction treatment for our citizens.
Funding for this initiative comes from third-party revenue collected by Cherokee Nation Health Services through health insurance claims. Approximately 7% of our third-party healthcare revenue is spent on building and operating addiction treatment facilities and wellness centers.
We are able to capture this revenue through the quality and compassionate work of our nurses, doctors and other staff in our health care system. Tribal citizens who are insured and have other options for seeking treatment always choose Cherokee Nation Health. These revenues allow us to reinvest in improving health care and the overall health of the Cherokees. We are building new facilities on the reserve and expanding part of the WW Hastings Medical Campus to make it a hub for behavioral health and wellness programs.
Building on the Public Health and Wellness Fund Act, we created the Physical Wellness Task Force which helps us plan programs, future facilities and work opportunities in the community for well-being. The task force, led by former Cherokee counselor Canaan Duncan, will help shape our wellness programs for the next decade.
A key aspect of the Wellness Task Force’s work will be to help design something long overdue: a planned $10 million wellness center in Adair County. Our own study of health disparities found that the need for wellness services was highest in Adair County. The task force will also help us plan our $10 million community center in Kenwood and other wellness facilities and programs throughout the reservation.
We are celebrating the Public Health and Wellness Fund Act by expanding it. In April, Council will consider a proposal from Deputy Chief Warner and I to improve the law to increase the amount of revenue earmarked for mental health and physical wellness programs to more than $12 million a year. year.
The proposal also does something historic: it commits funds from our recent opioid regulations to combat drug addiction. Last fall, we settled our pioneering litigation against opioid distributors, the first such case ever brought by a tribe. Deputy Chief Warner and I are proposing a commitment of $15 million from this settlement over the next three years to help build drug treatment facilities.
While $15 million isn’t enough to build the kind of comprehensive mental health and addictions treatment center the Cherokee deserve, it’s a good start. It is also a measure of justice by bringing healing to our people using funds from the very industry that has hurt us.
Ultimately, the Public Health and Wellness Fund Act will help bring about something transformational – breaking down the barriers between mental health and physical health. What really matters is that the Cherokee individually and collectively achieve well-being. This takes a holistic approach, bringing health to mind and body.
The Cherokee have asked for more resources for mental health, addiction treatment, nutrition and fitness, and we are delivering. Improving health and well-being saves money in our health care system, but we know that the most important return on that investment is not measured in dollars; it is measured by longer, healthier and happier lives for our people.
Chuck Hoskin Jr. is the Principal Chief of the Cherokee Nation.