New tribal health center takes first step
After 20 years of only dreams and discussions, the plan for a new tribal health center recently took its first concrete steps toward trading an antiquated building for a $29 million marvel.
Indian Health Services determined back in 1988 that the Fort Yuma Indian Hospital would require a total replacement because the historic buildings were too old, too small and deteriorating too quickly, according to IHS officials.
But only recently the federal government began actively working to secure funding and producing an lengthy environmental assessment. Some basic groundwork has also already taken place at the proposed building site, which is on the north side of Fort Yuma Hill, where a trailer park currently exists.
Officials are predicting that a facility could be built and open by April 2011.
"The ball is rolling," said Wes Picciotti, public affairs liaison in the IHS Phoenix Area Office.
Instead of a hospital, the new facility would be a modern clinic serving the Quechan and Cocopah tribes, as well as any other individual registered as an American Indian.
Officials with local tribes are celebrating what they call long-awaited good news.
"This is the most attention the hospital has ever received and it's been decades since a new hospital was built," said Liz Pratt, director of communications for the Cocopah Indian Tribe. "The tribe is very pleased that it's gotten to the point that it has."
The Fort Yuma Indian Hospital holds the distinction of being the oldest property held by IHS, according to a recent report. The administration building was constructed in 1852. The main hospital building is 75 years old.
The current facility transformed last year from a hospital with 24-hour emergency care to a day-to-day clinic, switching from handling heart-attack patients and accident victims to handling patients with severe colds and broken bones. IHS contracted with Yuma Regional Medical Center to provide emergency care for tribal patients.
"We had to quit fooling ourselves and know they are better at emergency care," IHS official Keith Longie told The Sun at the time.
Longie took the newspaper on a tour of the facility back then. He pointed to crumbling tile floors that are difficult to keep sanitized and pointed out how the facility couldn't even afford its own CT scan machine.
"We're striving to provide the best health care we can possibly provide," Picciotti said. "This facility will take a huge step toward making that happen."
AT A GLANCE
• Below Fort Yuma on the north side, current site of trailer park.
• Other proposed sites were locations near Cocopah Casino and one two miles west-northwest of Winterhaven along Winterhaven Road.
• Evaluation of proposal for new facility began in 1988.
• Awarding of architectural and engineering bid projected for Sept. 1.
• Officials predict 1 to 1.5 years for design, plus same for construction.
• Opening date projected for April 2011.
• Officials are securing $2 million to fund the design.
• Projected overall cost is $29 million.
• Existing facility is 20,000 square feet, while new center will boast 70,000.
• New facility will service up to 4,442 tribal members (2015 user population), plus employ a staff of 189. The existing facility employs 80 full-time employees.
Source: Indian Health Services repor
Darin Fenger can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 539-6860.