COOS BAY — The Coquille Indian Tribe has begun construction of Oregon’s first tribal health center offering services to the general public.

“This is an exciting opportunity to apply our potlatch tradition of community sharing,” said tribal Chairman Brenda Meade. “It will be another option for people who have had trouble finding a health-care provider.”

The Ko-Kwel Wellness Center will be a 22,000-square-foot building on the tribe’s Kilkich Reservation near Charleston. When it opens next year, the $12 million center will offer primary care, dental care, behavioral health, a pharmacy and other services.

The tribe has discussed the project for several years, and plans solidified in the fall of 2019, according to a press release. The COVID-19 pandemic hasn’t affected the construction timeline.

“In the midst of this crisis, we’re really pleased to be able to give the community some good news about health care,” Meade said.

The tribe is working with Craft3, a nonprofit lender that serves Oregon and Washington, to develop a financing package expected to include a direct loan and allocation of federal New Markets Tax Credits.

The New Markets Tax Credit program attracts outside investment to projects that benefit critical community needs. Together with favorable loan terms and several private grants, the financing package will let the tribe pay for the wellness center with only a minimal investment of the tribe’s own money.

“It’s a wonderful example of how a tribe can be an economic engine for the broader community,” Meade said.

The new facility nearly triples the square footage of the tribe’s existing Community Health Center, which it replaces. The wellness center will open its doors to several hundred new patients from the community at large, along with tribal families and tribal employees.

“Our vision is for a wraparound health-care home for patients,” said Meade. “We’re aiming to create a holistic wellness experience, in keeping with our people’s traditional values.”

The tribe will welcome patients using Medicare, the Oregon Health Plan (Medicaid) or private insurance.

Construction began in April, and the facility is scheduled to open in the summer of 2021. The tribe intentionally named it a “wellness center” to reflect a focus on serving each patient’s overall needs.

“We want to care for the whole person,” Meade explained. “People will be able to get primary medical care, dental care and a pharmacy, all under one roof. And we don’t want to stop there. Over time, we want to add alternative therapies, such as massage, acupuncture and chiropractic.”

The wellness center will not be a hospital. Nor is the tribe positioning it as a competitor to existing medical clinics. Instead, the intent is to cooperate with other care providers to meet community needs.

“Finding a primary care provider can be challenging for patients, especially those on Medicare and Medicaid,” Meade said. “We’ll provide another option to help relieve the strain.”

The wellness center is being built atop a former cranberry bog on the tribe’s Kilkich Reservation near Charleston. Its design will reflect the tribe’s indigenous heritage: Its exterior will evoke a tribal plankhouse, with a main entrance simulating a traditional round door. The center’s interior corridors will trace the shape of a forked fishing spear, a common symbol of the Coquille Tribe. The space between the fork’s tines will form an interior courtyard where patients can relax in a secluded green space.

S+B James Construction, Medford, is the design-build contractor for the project. Several subcontractors on the project are local or employ local workers, including Billeter Marine, Coastline West Insulation, Guido Construction, Knife River Materials, Kyle Electric, One Way Builders, Rich Rayburn Roofing and Umpqua Sheet Metal.

The word “Ko-Kwel” in the center’s name highlights the historical pronunciation of the tribe’s own name. Although the city and river bearing the Coquille name are commonly pronounced “ko-keel,” the tribe has revived the older pronunciation in recent decades.

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