Walls of old hospital come crumbling down
By Ken Childers
A nearly 70-year-old structure on the eastern edge of Okemah where, inside its walls, many first breaths (and sadly, many last ones) were taken is being demolished.
Crews recently began tearing down what was once known as Okfuskee County Memorial Hospital, which was constructed in 1948 at 309 North 14th Street. The Muscogee (Creek) Nation (MCN) took the hospital over in 1977, but has since built a new 110,000 square-foot facility on Coplin Road near Interstate 40.
MCN officials said the old hospital is being torn down to possibly make way for a new structure, adding that although no definite plans have been made, the lot will be cleared and made ready for construction.
“The primary reason [for the demolition] is that the infrastructure of the building is so outdated it is cost prohibitive to maintain it. Should the tribe choose to construct another facility on the property, it would be more cost effective to build a new structure,” said Shawn Terry, MCN Secretary of Health.
Okfuskee County Memorial Hospital began operations in 1951with 39 beds and the major physical plant was built was built in 1971. The hospital was built by a grant provided by the Hill-Burton Act of 1946, which gave hospitals, nursing homes and other health facilities grants and loans for construction and modernization. In return, they agreed to provide a reasonable volume of services to people unable to pay and to make their services available to all persons residing in the facility’s area. The program stopped providing funds in 1997, but about 140 health care facilities nationwide are still obligated to provide free or reduced-cost care.
In February 1977, MCN representatives met with Okfuskee County Commissioners and the hospital board to discuss the possibility of acquiring the hospital, which had closed its doors two weeks earlier. The deal was consummated later that year.
Those representing MCN at the 1977 meeting included Chief Claude Cox, Executive Director Ed Mouss, Community Services Director Gary Breshears and Community Services Specialist Steve Wilson. Representing the hospital board were Bob Carroll, chairman; Allison Kelly, vice chairman; J.P. Owens, secretary and D.A.Seran. County Commissioners present were Emil Montgomery and Mike Crawley.
At the time of the MCN acquisition, it was the first tribally owned hospital in the U.S. through the Indian Self-Determination and Education Assistance Act and through a partnership with Okfuskee County. Since it was not a federally-funded Indian hospital, services were, and still are, made available to the public and not strictly to tribal members.
In 2015, construction began on the new Creek Nation Community Hospital, which officially opened its doors on May 10, 2018. The $55 million facility includes an emergency room, lab, X-Ray services, inpatient services, surgery center and an outpatient specialty clinic.
MCN also owns and operates a hospital in Okmulgee as well as several clinics within its territorial boundaries.