Tribe builds holistic wellness center
From The World newspaper, Coos Bay, Ore
CHARLESTON — Just up the hill from Cape Arago Highway, atop a former cranberry bog, heirs of an ancient culture are creating a new approach to health care.
The Ko-Kwel Wellness center will offer primary health care, dentistry, a pharmacy, behavioral health and more — all under one roof. Coquille Indian Tribe families, tribal employees and patients from the surrounding community will come together in a diversified “one-stop shop.”
“Our goal is to be able to take care of the whole person, not just the part that needs a prescription,” said Coquille Tribal Chairman Brenda Meade. “If you’re a patient here, we want this to be your home for health care.”
The wellness center will be Oregon’s first tribal health facility to welcome the non-tribal public. Upholding the ancient potlatch tradition of sharing resources, it will serve hundreds of Oregon Health Plan patients in collaboration with Advanced Health, the organization that administers OHP locally.
Ben Messner, Advanced Health’s CEO, described the center as “an innovative, patient-centered, full-service primary care model that is truly of significant benefit for Advanced Health members and our entire community.”
When it’s finished next year, the 22,000-square-foot facility will nearly triple the Coquille Tribe’s existing health-care space. The center’s medical, dental and pharmacy departments will work alongside additional services such as chiropractic, massage and acupuncture.
“We have a lot of opportunities to offer more services,” Meade said. “It’s really going to depend on the needs of our patients.”
Situated amid homes and tribal offices on the Kilkich Reservation, the wellness center will be an up-to-date structure, infused with more than 10,000 years of tribal history.
Reinforced concrete and quake-resistant steel piling will combine with indigenous cedar planks and Coquille River rock. The color scheme will evoke the South Coast environment. Indigenous plants will fill an interior courtyard, flanked by corridors tracing the shape of a fishing spear. Showcases will display the tribe’s virtuoso basketry, beadwork and even a cedar canoe.
The facility’s name is another salute to tribal heritage. “Ko-Kwel” is a phonetic spelling of the tribe’s name, based on an Indian word for the Coquille River’s once-abundant lamprey.
“We want tribal members to feel welcomed in a setting that celebrates their history,” Meade said. “And we want to share that sense of history and that feeling of potlatch with others in our community.”
Meade emphasizes that the center won’t aim to compete with existing clinics. Rather, it offers a new option in a community where health care providers can be hard to find.
Construction began in April, led by Medford-based S+B James Construction and aided by several Coos County subcontractors. The job is on schedule despite the economic hardships of a global pandemic.
An innovative financing plan is the reason. A regional nonprofit, Craft3, created a financing package that employs federal lending plus an investment tool called New Market Tax Credits. The investor, Wells Fargo, fronts construction money to the tribe in return for a future tax break.
“Craft3 invests in projects that meet community needs and bring people together – and the new wellness center checks both of those boxes,” said Adam Zimmerman, Craft3’s president and CEO.
“We look forward to seeing this vital community project benefit the local community for years to come,” said Kelly Reilly, a Wells Fargo vice president for corporate communications.