Yellowhawk ground-breaking in August

July 2016, CUJ

By the CUJ. MISSION – The planned Yellowhawk Community Health Clinic (Yellowhawk), a 63,300 square foot state-of-the-art facility, will be “like no other clinic in the world.”

Arrowhead Travel PLaza

This is a designer rendering of what the exterior of the new Yellowhawk Tribal Health Center will look like. A ground breaking ceremony will take place Aug. 25 with the construction to be fully underway in September. Construction is expected to last about 12-13 months.


A ground-breaking ceremony is being planned for Aug. 25 (see announcement on page 13B) when construction begins on land west of Nixyaawii Governance Center. If work follows the proposed schedule Native America could be using the clinic as early as October or November of 2017.

“We are going to have a building that we will be very proud of as a tribal people,” said Jo Marie Tessman, a member of the CTUIR Health Commission who has taken the lead on the project.

But as much as the building is beautiful, it is important to fill it with professionals who are committed to serving the community on the Umatilla Indian Reservation. “An outstanding building can still face issues with staff,” said Aaron Ashley, a member of the Board of Trustees (BOT), which heard a quarterly report from Yellowhawk on June 30.

In his personal experience, Ashley said he has been “unsatisfied” and has heard from community members who don’t agree that a new clinic is warranted.

“I want to be able to assure them that there will be quality care. An outstanding building requires outstanding quality doctors … doctors who give the right diagnosis and not just feed us pills all the time. When I go home,” Ashley said, “I won’t be impressed by a pretty building but by quality care.”

Yellowhawk CEO Tim Gilbert, noting that the clinic staff is continuing to work on a strategic plan, said he agrees “100 percent” with Ashley.

“If we can’t rise to the occasion what is the point of having a new facility … we don’t want to put a broken system into a new building,”

Gilbert said. Gilbert and other Yellowhawk staff are hoping a new system of care will reassure Ashley and others. Basically, four teams that will include staff ranging from doctors and pharmacists to dieticians and behaviorists will be responsible for individual patients. For example, a team for a particular patient who presents with the flu might also recognize that an immunization or a change in diet may be needed.

“Patients will be working with an integrated team,” Tessman said. “The patient will be a member of the team, too, and will be responsible their own health by increasing healthy lifestyle choices. This won’t be a passive system.”

While the medical part of the facility will have some of the best equipment available, including an in-house lab for blood work and other analyses, it will be other more low-tech efficiencies that will cut electrical costs for the new clinic.

Toward a net-zero power bill, some of the fixes will be as simple as better wall insulation, more efficient windows, and better use of shades as the sun changes place in the sky.

Yellowhawk expects to receive a $450,000 grant from the Oregon Energy Trust to help with costs for such environmental improvements. The Trust requires that a building be at least 40 percent more efficient than Oregon energy codes, which already are robust.

“Under Oregon energy codes we’ll save about $102,000 in energy bills. With new technologies we could save about $50,000 more,” said Dave Fishel, Vice-President at Wenaha Group.

The addition of solar panels could move Yellowhawk even closer to net zero.

“It’s an exciting place to be,” Fishel said. “The tribes are in the spotlight with what you’re doing in terms of energy efficiency. It’s an amazing project internationally.”

Fishel said NBBJ, the engineers for the new clinic, have told him that Yellowhawk will be one of the four most energy efficient health care facilities they’ve been involved with around the world.

“It’s difficult to make buildings energy efficient, but the stars and planets aligned for this. It will be hard work but we’re super excited.”

The increased size of the health center means a higher price tag with costs rising from $23 million to about $26 million. The initial estimate was based on early projections before an architectural or engineering work was completed.

The lion’s share of the cost is the result of a fiscally responsible Health Commission, which set aside savings each year since 2002.

“We’ve been carefully squirrelling money [$15 million] away and investing,” Tessman said.

Another chunk is coming from a $3 million for Indian Health Service settlement..

And the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, has proved financially beneficial to the CTUIR.

“It has enabled us to sign up numerous people through the Oregon Health Authority so we now bill Medicare and Medicaid, which has increased our third-party revenue significantly over the last three years,” Tessman said.

What’s left – a little over $11 million –will be borrowed.

Among the items in the new budget is a higher contingency of nearly $3 million in case construction costs come in higher than expected. All new furniture and equipment is expected to cost another $3 million.

Also, $250,000 is earmarked for the demolition or repurposing of the current Yellowhawk clinic. In the past the building has been mentioned as an educational facility or a new Nixyaawii Community School.

Jim Wallis, financial officer for Yellowhawk, said the building is flexible.

“Most of the walls could be moved; they aren’t bearing walls,” Wallis said. Additionally, the current building has an upgraded heating and cooling system.

“It’s a useable building,” Wallis said. “We want to give it back to the Tribes to use for whatever you want to use it for.”

Tessman already has seen excitement among Yellowhawk employees, which currently number about 140. Once the new facility is up and occupied, another 10 to 15 more employees will be at the health center.

Rosenda Shippentower, treasurer for the CTUIR Board of Trustees, said it is important that employees know they are needed and appreciated.

“We can’t have a revolving door,” she said, referring to doctors who spend a year or two here before moving on. “We need an atmosphere to give employees encouragement … they deserve our respect.”

Said Tessman, “It’s going to be unlike anything we’ve seen before.”