S’Klallam Tribe celebrates opening of holistic health center

The Port Gamble S’Klallam Tribe has opened a new health center on its government campus – the first tribally owned and operated health clinic in Kitsap County.

The tribe is holding a two-day Grand Opening Aug. 6-7, which will include a tribal community and staff barbecue, a blessing ceremony, Gov. Jay Inslee and tribal dignitaries, and tours of the facility. The events are closed to the public.

The aim of the health center is to provide comprehensive health care services to the S’Klallam and other tribal communities in Kitsap County, with a goal of having as many services under one roof as possible while reflecting the PGST and other tribal cultures. The two-story 22,500-square-foot facility will provide medical, dental and mental health services in addition to wrap-around services such as nursing care, health advocacy, addiction treatment and much more.

“Our new health center provides convenient access to multiple providers under one roof, which takes away, what is for some in our community, a significant barrier to care, whether for themselves or family members,” said Jolene Sullivan, PGST’s Health Services director.

Care options will also include the nature- and plant-based traditions and medicines used by the PGST for generations.

The first floor of the facility will have 10 exam rooms and 11 consultation rooms dedicated to primary care and behavioral health, with a separate wing for dental services. The health center will also have limited space for lab work and sterilization.

The second floor will be a large community kitchen, group rooms, administrative offices, community outreach services and a staff lounge. There will also be an executive conference room and balcony named for Rose Purser, a tribal elder, that overlooks the bay connecting the reservation to the tribes’ ancestral home in Port Gamble.

Many PGST elders have been memorialized in various areas of the health center, such as Carol DeCoteau, Dorothy George and Irene Purser, all of whom were some of the tribe’s first community health representatives and caregivers.

The lobby of the health center features a two-story atrium that opens onto a landscaped courtyard, and two large art pieces from PGST master carver Joe Ives Sr. The first piece, called Whale Rider, hangs over the entrance and features a person riding the back of an orca; the second is an ornate mask overlooking the courtyard doors.

The health center will eventually house an outdoor garden that will be used to grow botanicals used in PGST teas, salves and foods.

“While health and healing has always been important to S’Klallam culture, this community has a relatively new relationship with modern medicine. For generations, even into the 1970s and ‘80s, options were limited because of lack of transportation off reservation, and the few providers who tribal members felt comfortable entrusting their care to,” Sullivan said

The first health services that became available for the PGST came in 1971 when federal funding allowed for the tribe to hire a Community Health representative who offered limited preventative care services and transportation off the reservation for medical appointments. Those appointments were often expensive to the point where the federal funds were depleted within a year.

In 1979 the PGST hired Dixie Deeter, a nurse practitioner contracted through the National Health Service Corps, marking the beginning of the tribe’s ability to manage its own healthcare.

The health center has been designated as an emergency facility for its North Kitsap neighbors in case of a catastrophic event such as an earthquake.

“Currently, with the nearest hospital in Silverdale, North Kitsap residents don’t have access to a facility that can respond to a major emergency. We hope there isn’t ever a need, but in an event like this, we’ll be ready to open our doors and attend to whomever needs assistance,” Sullivan said.