BIG CYPRESS — With an enormous earthmoving excavator marking the spot, Tribal officials broke ground Jan. 28 on the Big Cypress Medical Center. The nearly 30,000-square-foot facility is scheduled for completion in February 2016.
“For me, this is the brightest day ever,” Big Cypress Councilman Mondo Tiger said. “This will allow seniors to stay on the reservation for dialysis. We’re so isolated out here. This is long overdue.”
In addition to on-site dialysis, Big Cypress residents can look forward to a spacious medical center that will include dental, optometry, pediatric and medical offices, a gym for physical therapy, a pharmacy with a drive-thru window, a teaching kitchen and the Children’s Center for Diagnostics and Therapy.
“The goal is to have more people come in,” said Connie Whidden, Health Department director. “I hope people will come who usually don’t.”
Located on a 2.6-acre site across from the Frank Billie Field Office on Josie Billie Highway, the two-story center will incorporate energy-efficient systems and recycled materials. It was designed by the architecture firm Saltz Michelson, which specializes in medical, educational and governmental facilities. Seminole/Stiles will build it.
“As the Tribe continues to grow, it outgrows its facilities,” Executive Administrative Officer O’Hara Tommie said. “Of all the services, health is the most essential. It used to be the only service we offered.”
Former Chairman Mitchell Cypress remembers going to a tiny building, where the Ahfachkee School is now located, to see a doctor or nurse who would come to the reservation once or twice a month.
“I always say Big Cypress seemed like the Third World at one time,” he said. “I’m glad I’m here to see this groundbreaking and see how far we’ve come.”
In the mid-1970s, Charlotte Tommie worked with the planning committee that chose the site for the portable medical buildings that have served the Big Cypress community for the last 40 years.
She said she has big hopes for the new facility.
Ruggy Jumper said he remembers helping construct the medical center in the ’70s.
“Three or four of us Seminole boys laid the first stakes for the foundation of the clinic,” he said. “This will be a great improvement for everybody. It’s time to move on; the future is here.”
About 60 people turned out to mark the occasion, which also featured speeches from dignitaries and a model of the medical center on display.
“I believe it’s going to be a great relief having it here,” said Corrina Frank-Sanchez, who added she was impressed with the model. “It will be comforting for people to know they don’t have to take that long drive to see a doctor.”