NORMAN — The University of Oklahoma turned over control of an Okmulgee physical rehabilitation hospital to the Muscogee (Creek) Nation Monday.
OU President David Boren and tribal Chief George Tiger finalized the sale of the Okmulgee-based George Nigh Rehabilitation Center at a signing ceremony Monday at OU. The $1 million sale marks the first time a public university in Oklahoma has transferred a property to an American Indian nation.
The tribe owns several medical facilities in towns throughout northeastern Oklahoma, including health centers in Eufaula, Coweta, Okemah, Okmulgee, Sapulpa and Wetumka.
During the ceremony, Boren praised the tribe's health care system, saying he expected the hospital would enhance and expand the tribe's existing health care services. The tribe has done an “exceptional” job improving the quality of life for people in the 11 counties it covers, he said.
“The Creek Nation has brought health care to all the people in its boundaries,” Boren said. “We're placing this facility in the right hands.”
During the ceremony, Tiger said the tribe appreciates the opportunity to work with OU. He praised the tribe's National Council and the Oklahoma Legislature for their work in working out the transfer.
“We're pleased that this day has come, and we're looking forward to a long-lasting relationship with the University of Oklahoma,” Tiger said.
The hospital offers a range of rehabilitation services, including physical and occupational therapy, speech pathology and cardiac rehabilitation. The center treats conditions that include back, neck and spinal cord injuries, stroke and orthopedic conditions such as joint replacements and fractures.
The OU Health Sciences Center took over control of the facility from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs in 1999.
Ken Rowe, OU's vice president for administration and finance, said the sale was a good fit, both for the university and the tribe. Because most of OU's patients live in Oklahoma City or Tulsa, patients couldn't always make the trip to Okmulgee for a referral.
The clinic is located near several of the tribe's medical facilities, including the Okmulgee Indian Health Center. That proximity made the clinic a better fit for the tribe than for OU, he said. It also fills an unmet need in the area, he said.
“They have a real need up there for rehab services,” Rowe said.
As a part of the sale, tribal officials plan to keep all of the hospital's current employees on staff, Rowe said.