Chairwoman cuts ribbon at Health Center

Cocopah Tribal Chairwoman Sherry Cordova cuts the ribbon at the new Fort Yuma Indian Health Service Health Care Center opening on 4/11/18.

On April 11, 2018, the Fort Yuma-Quechan and Cocopah Tribes celebrated the opening of the Ft Yuma Health Care Center, a much-needed outpatient health clinic that will serve both communities. More than 300 people attended the ribbon cutting ceremony. Among them were elected leaders from both tribes, tribal elders, and community members, along with officials from Arizona, California and Washington, D.C.

The new state-of-the-art health center replaces the previous clinic, built in the 1930s, and will serve approximately 4,500 community members from both tribes as well as eligible beneficiaries of the Indian Health Services.   The 76,265-square-foot facility will provide an expanded scope of services, improved efficiencies, and an opportunity to fully implement a patient centered medical home.

lobby of the medical center

Inside the lobby of the medical center on the day of the ribbon cutting ceremony.

Though both Tribes are rich in cultural history and significance with a connection to the land that dates back centuries, until now the previous health clinic was the only southwestern Indian Health Services facility on the border of California and Yuma. The Quechan Tribe extends across the Arizona-California border, and is home to nearly 3,200 Quechan Tribal members. The Cocopah Tribe is located on three noncontiguous bodies of land known as the North, West and East Reservations. These three reservations comprise over 6,500 acres and border the United States, Mexico, Arizona and California. Cocopah has approximately 1300 enrolled members.

Despite its advanced age, the previous center served thousands of patients from both the Cocopah and Fort Yuma-Quechan Tribes. However, many services remained unavailable due to technological constraints and other shortcomings.

Located less than a mile from the previous facility on the Quechan reservation. The new outpatient health center will provide a full range of ambulatory care services such as dental, optometry, physical therapy, telemedicine, public health nursing and more. For the first time, many tribal members will even have realistic access to a variety of specialty services such as podiatry and rheumatology.

Not only will the center offer state-of-the-art new services and technology to vastly improve treatment and caretaking, the facility itself includes several “green features” that should increase efficiency and sustainability, creating the opportunity for long-term growth in the future. These features include adding solar panels to covered parking to collect energy for generators that will power several of the hospital’s operational functions, ‘rammed earth’ construction that will improve insulation, and solar water heaters, which will further increase efficiency and decrease energy costs.

The crowd was full for the opening ceremony, as Tribal and Community Leaders spoke to mark the historic day.

Several groups had the opportunity to tour the completed portions of the facility ahead of the opening, including Tribal Leadership and a group of elders from the Cocopah Indian Tribe a day before the event, as well as a group of high school students from San Pasqual High School.  On April 11th the facility hosted a ribbon cutting ceremony where the leaders from both tribes spoke to attendees about the significance of this new facility. Funding was provided by Congress, which allocated $48,700,000 to the project, while management and maintenance will be handled by the IHS. Once fully staffed, the center will employ over 175 individuals, almost a three-fold increase from the 59 who currently staff both clinics.

In addition to creating new health and wellness services for tribal members, the new facility represents another milestone in the progress of Tribes throughout Arizona as they continue to grow, diversify their economies, and further improve and modernize community infrastructure.

An important part of that growth and self-reliance is due to the economic catalyst provided by Tribal Gaming revenues. Over the past year, Tribes such as the San Carlos Apache Tribe, Tohono O’odham Nation, Cocopah, and Fort Yuma-Quechan have each invested in different healthcare projects on tribal land.  These include funding programs to help veterans, provide support for domestic violence victim and prevention efforts, improve of senior services, construct health and wellness centers and fund robust trauma care facilities that benefit all Arizonans.  

In fact, 28% of shared Tribal Gaming revenues go to the Trauma Emergency Services Fund administered by the Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System. These shared revenues help fund health Trauma and Emergency Departments in hospitals all across Arizona.

Today, Tribal Gaming is part of the economic matrix that is helping Tribes in Arizona overcome centuries of forced displacement and economic isolation, providing resources to build thriving, self-sufficient communities. Gaming revenues and contributions from gaming enterprises have made it possible for Tribes like the Cocopah and Fort Yuma-Quechan to prosper and grow.  Congress, meanwhile, can help support that continued growth through infrastructure and healthcare support such as the new Fort Yuma Health Center.