New Yellowhawk is ‘fantastic’

October 2012, CUJ

Speaker in front of the group

Dr. Rex Quaempts, Medical Director at Yellowhawk Tribal Health Center, was one of the speakers during the “soft grand opening” May 1 on the Umatilla Indian Reservation. Hundreds of people turned out for ribbon-cutting ceremonies and tours of the 64,000 square-foot facility. For more photos turn to page 4A.

Community turns out for opening of Tribal Health Center By the CUJ

MISSION – Dr. Rex Quaempts said the clinic he remembers as a kid was smaller than his office at the new Yellowhawk Tribal Health Center that opened to the public May 1 on the Umatilla Indian Reservation. When the doors opened about 1 p.m., following an hour of drumming, singing, speeches and a ribbon cutting, hundreds of community members entered the doors and flowed through the circular building on guided tours of the 64,000 square-foot state-of-the-art facility that boasts, among other things, 15 medical exam rooms and 10 dental chairs.

“It’s fantastic,” said elder John Brown. “It’s a big time difference. Everything is so nice and everybody is so happy.”

The ceremonial “soft grand opening” of the new clinic, under construction for more than a year, was bittersweet for the community which was mourning the loss of three elders at the end of April.

ribal Members and other community members rejoiced at the opening, but it wasn’t without acknowledgement that many were absent from the ceremony. Master of Ceremonies Donald Sampson called for a moment of silence to honor the families and friends of those who passed before an invocation officially started the event.

After Yellowhawk staff, Health Commission, Board of Trustees and community members observed the traditional Washat invocation, Sampson introduced Board of Trustees Chair Gary Burke, who offered remarks about the new facility.

Burke thanked the Creator for making the new facility possible and said the building was a vision that elders have had for decades. Way back in the 70’s, Burke said, there were elders who spoke of the facility that opened under partly sunny skies on the Bowman Property near the Nixyaawii Governance Center.

“Today’s future has arrived,” Burke said. “I guess you could call them (elders) prophets because they saw this coming a long time ago. People always went to them to see what was coming.”

The stories were foretold to Burke as a young man and elders always said it would be their children and grandchildren running the clinic.

Sampson mentioned several employees who worked for decades at the clinic before retiring. Some of those employees have fully-grown children who continue the lineage of Yellowhawk employment.

Health Commission Chair Shawna Gavin took the podium after Chair Burke and also thanked the people who helped the clinic come to fruition. She mentioned those who helped the physical development, such as the Tribal Employment Rights Office Commission and administrative staff, as well as Tribal Members who were referred to construction positions by TERO. She also thanked past commission members who were instrumental in planning the current facility.

Gavin recalled times in meetings when Myrna Tovey was a commission member and she used to comment that she didn’t want to discuss the new facility if it wasn’t going to actually happen. Gavin said Tovey’s sternness helped push along the project. Gavin also gave special recognition to atway Betty (Motanic) McLean who served many years on the commission.

She said, “Betty McClain had a keen eye for budgets when she was there. She would go line by line and point out anything she didn’t think added up. All of those who came before us created a pathway and made it easier for us to get this done.”

Previous interim Yellowhawk CEO Sandra Sampson was unable to attend the opening ceremony, but many speakers mentioned her by name, including Gavin. “Sandy Sampson was the chair of the Health Commission when I started back in 2006,” Gavin said. “She is a fireball and she never quits. We are very grateful for all her hard work here.”

In closing Gavin said it would be a disservice to not thank previous CEO Tim Gilbert, who was presiding over the clinic when the group broke ground in 2016.

New Yellowhawk CEO Lisa Guzman, who was hired March 26, also welcomed everyone to the ceremony and thanked the BOT and Health commission for helping her get acclimated in her position. The most instrumental person who helped Guzman, she said, was Sandra Sampson. Guzman also shared a heart-warming email Sampson sent her on the morning of the ceremony.

The last speaker to take the podium before letting the community enter the facility was Dr. Quaempts, Yellowhawk’s Medical Director.

Practicing self-care and prevention were huge pieces of advice that Quaempts shared with the community in attendance.

“Finding the time to take care of ourselves is difficult, but if we don’t do so we end up falling apart, and if we fall apart our families fall apart,” Quaempts said. “If our families fall apart we end up with all those chronic diseases that hurt us such as heart disease, substance abuse, anxiety and depression.”

Quaempts recalled growing up amongst the tribe and said the first medicine man he remembers was Ike Patrick. Watching young people pass away over the years from preventable diseases was a large part of why Quaempts pursued a career in medicine.

Quaempts said much of the new clinic is medicine, but a larger part of wellness is prevention.

He encouraged community members to eat healthy foods and get exercise to prolong their lives and quality of life. He said getting outdoors to dig roots and eating traditional foods is the best way to increase health.

Quaempts said, “Our way of life is our wellness center.”