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 Tuesday, 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 that was mourning the loss of three elders at the end of April.
Tribal members and other community members rejoiced at the opening, but it wasn’t without acknowledgment 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 ’70s, 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.
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 former interim CEO Sandra Sampson, who was unable to attend.
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.”