Tribe launches major construction projects in response to COVID-19 crisis

ADA, Okla. - Curious residents driving by the former K-Mart department store on Cradduck Road in Ada have noticed an uptick in activity as the building transitions to an Emergency Multi-Use Facility (EMU).

Gov. Bill Anoatubby said this project, as well as others, were part of the comprehensive tribal response to the public health crisis.

“Individuals are facing a wide variety of challenges as a result of this pandemic,” Gov. Anoatubby said. “Our leadership team has developed an integrated approach to services designed to help meet the current and long-term needs associated with this public health emergency. We continue placing a high priority on helping contain this virus to help protect the health, lives and long-term economic prosperity of our citizens and neighbors.”

Construction projects also include an alternate site care facility and an expansion of the Men’s Recovery Center. Funding for construction was made available by the federal CARES Act which, among other things, established the Coronavirus Relief Fund to provide funds to support tribal governments in their response to the COVID-19 public health emergency.

The former K-Mart building location will serve as a unified incident command center, a COVID-19 drive-through testing and vaccination site, and an optional COVID-19 strategic personal protective equipment (PPE) inventory storage facility.

Chickasaw Nation Secretary of Health Dr. Charles Grim said the site would serve as a distribution point for strategic supplies inventory and pre-packed modules containing apportioned supplies made available to other local, state and tribal entities during times of emergency. Pre-packed modules often include PPE, medication, medical supplies, emergency rations and water.

The new facility will act as a host site for coordination among local, state, tribal, federal and other emergency management systems.

COVID-19 testing there will be dedicated to the mitigation of and response to the public health emergency using touchless, drive-thru service. It will also serve as a mass immunization site when a vaccine becomes readily available and as a community-based distribution point for additional services such as emergency rations, water and PPE.


New construction on the Chickasaw Nation Medical Center campus in Ada will result in an “alternate site care facility.”

“You don’t hear ‘alternate site care facility’ very often,” Dr. Grim said. “Where you do tend to hear it are in mass casualties or long-term sorts of problems like in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina when the city flooded there.”

In times of large-scale emergencies, Dr. Grim said, communities often convert civic centers or indoor sports arenas with large open areas into places to put beds, exam rooms or both because hospitals are filled to capacity.

“Whenever you have a long-term issue, which we seem to have with COVID, you start needing more capacity than you have in your current facility,” he said. “That’s where you start hearing about alternate site care facilities.”

The reason for locating it at the Chickasaw Nation Medical Center in Ada is due to logistics and convenience of care.

“It would be easier for nursing, respiratory therapy and for everyone to be on one campus instead of having to go across town to some building that we converted into an alternate site care facility,” he said.

The alternate care facility is approximately 12,000 square feet, large enough to house 48 beds in addition to those already available within the medical center itself, if needed.

“It will only be used for this type of care when we exceed our capacity in the medical center,” Dr. Grim said. “The rest of the time it will be used as a nurse training facility. Nurses will have actual enclosed rooms and manikins that can simulate almost any human medical condition.”

One part of the building large enough to hold 36 beds separated by partitions will simulate conditions typical of alternate site care facilities during emergencies.

Dr. Grim said its negative pressure rooms siphon out air and replace it with fresh air, similar to a typical Intensive Care Unit, which maintains clean air throughout the entire building.

Another use for the new facility will come about when a COVID-19 vaccine is made available for distribution.

“Whenever we get a vaccine for this virus we want to start doing mass immunizations,” Dr. Grim said.

Another approximate 12,000 additional square feet is being added to the medical center’s laboratory, medical supply area and its in-patient pharmacy.

All those areas, Dr. Grim said, had been impacted by the coronavirus. Before the pandemic it seemed economically wasteful to have more inventory on hand than may be needed in the next couple of days.

“If you could get something in two days, why stock 30 to 60 days’ worth?” he asked.

Uncertainty has changed that tactic.

“We’re back to thinking we should supply 30 to 60 days’ worth because you never know when you’re going to run out of masks, gowns and gloves, especially when there’s a worldwide pandemic,” he said. “That is one of the reasons we are expanding medical supplies and we are going to have medical supplies in the alternate site care facility as well.”

Medical supplies in medical center laboratory are also expanding.

“We bought five additional lab machines for COVID testing, Dr. Grim said. “Early on we couldn’t get the testing materials or the equipment. As time went on, we knew we wanted to build the capacity in-house so we purchased machines to do both the viral testing and the antibody testing.”


Secretary of Chickasaw Nation Family Services Jay Keel said two more buildings under construction are designed to serve as emergency temporary recovery units. Due to the pandemic, the “Hina Chokma” (Chickasaw for “Good Health”), program had been operating at half its 14-bed capacity.

The two additional buildings will feature three bedrooms each with private bathrooms. This additional space allows for up to 20 beds with which to allow COVID-19 patients to be isolated while maintaining social distancing.

“We’ve been forced to operate at 50 percent capacity because of the coronavirus,” Mr. Keel said. “This gives us much needed additional space with which to safely supply the care they deserve.”

COVID-19 is a serious public health pandemic that has resulted in its share of mental health issues as well. Addressing these issues, Mr. Keel said, was also critical to the tribe’s overall mission.

“The Chickasaw Nation response to mental health is an integral part of our overall services,” he said. “This new construction will enhance our ability to better meet those needs.”