AFTON – Several local municipal representatives came together at the Northeast Technology Center (NTC) campus in Afton Wednesday for the Community Health Center of Northeast Oklahoma, Inc. (CHCNEO) Mayor Summit.

The first in a planned series of scaled networking and learning summits coordinated by CHCNEO Outreach and Enrollment Specialist Lee Hilliard, the gathering provides municipal leaders with information on developments and available resources for their communities.

Attending the Aug. 16 pilot session were Bernice Mayor, Brad Campbell; Bernice City/Court Clerk, Teri Boyd; Bluejacket Mayor, Chuck North; Fairland Mayor, Charles Mathis; Vinita Director of Operations, Jim Whisenant and Miami Heartland Plaza Director, Regina Brown.

During the half-day session, attendees heard from four presenters on topics related to state government, employment, and healthcare.

“We were extremely pleased by the participation and enthusiasm of all who attended our first Mayor Summit," said Hilliard. "This event was part of the observance of the National Community Health Center Week and was a way for us to share valuable information with area community leaders.”

Government

Rep. Ben Loring (D-Dist. 7), who also serves as City Attorney for the City of Miami, was the first presenter of the day and utilized his time to facilitate a discussion about current events and concerns in state government impacting municipalities.

Loring began with a review of some of his voting decisions in the most recent legislative session, specifically his votes against Senate Bill 593 and House Bill 2132, before opening discussion on the state's ongoing budget woes.

SB 593 relates to wind energy by specifying certain terms of building a wind facility by eliminating a loophole that allowed landowners to file a claim with the FAA for possible construction of a private-use airport, which would impede the construction of nearby wind power turbines due to state siting laws.

HB 2132 allows for the establishment of what supporters described as "prosperity districts," which would replace, "within its boundaries, all state laws above the baseline of the State Constitution, common law, criminal law and existing compacts." Meaning a landowner or a collective of landowners could file with their county to create zones exempt from most state regulations.

Loring then discussed the significant gaps in the state budget and its potential impact on service agencies and in aiding in continued economic development, especially in rural municipalities.

"Oklahomans are a very resilient people with all that we have been through in our history, we really are an amazing people," said Loring. "But this is different from a dust bowl. This is different from a bombing terrorist attack. This is a different type of catastrophe we are facing, and I hope and pray we have the same kind of resiliency to see ourselves through it."

Loring concluded his time by expressing his gratitude for the work being done by Oklahoma's municipal leaders.

"I want you to know that there are those of us that really appreciate what you do for your communities, for your citizens," said Loring. "I can't thank you enough for it... the community level is really where the rubber meets the road at this time in our state."

Workforce

Presenting next was Miami Workforce Center Manager Paul Marquez with information about the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA), and the resources it provides through Oklahoma Works.

Marquez outlined the numerous free services provided through one-stop centers serving job seekers and employers through core services and programs funded by WIOA.

According to the U.S. Department of Labor, WIOA is designed to help job seekers access employment, education, training, and support services to succeed in the labor market and to match employers with the skilled workers they need to compete in the global economy.

Marquez shared information on programs that directly benefit municipalities and their local businesses as employers, such as the Work Opportunity Tax Credit and the Federal Bonding Program, for employers who from target groups that historically have difficulty finding or qualifying for employment.

Through one-stop centers, grant funding is also available to provide termed employment placements that cover the cost of wages, allowing the opportunity for municipalities as employers to fill positions on a cyclical basis without costs to them while offering training and experience to job seekers. A win-win.

One-stop career centers for the region are located in Miami, Bartlesville, and Pryor along with an affiliate site in Claremore at Cherokee Nation.

Health

The second half of the summit focused on health, beginning with an overview of the impact of medical training on local communities by NTC Health & Medical Instructor Teresa Colby. 

Colby discussed the nursing related career training available through NTC including options for current high school students, adult certification programs, and post-training employment and continuing education.

Nursing related careers are listed among state occupations with large employment through 2024 as classified by the Oklahoma Employment Security Commission.

Current trends also show an increasing proportion of men in the LPN workforce and growth in diversity among those choosing a nursing career path.

Colby highlighted that medical training helps municipalities by creating a skilled local workforce averaging higher median wages while simultaneously filling the need for medical professionals, especially in rural communities.

Rounding out the day was Patrick Peer, CHCNEO CEO sharing how Community Health Centers (CHC) serve and benefit their communities.

According to the Oklahoma Primary Care Association, CHCs are community-based and patient directed organizations that serve local populations with limited access to health care.

CHCs are located in high-need areas identified by the federal government as having limited physicians, higher than average infant mortality, and elevated poverty.

Among the over 1,400 CHC organizations representing more than 9,800 service sites in the U.S., more than 55 percent are in rural communities.

Regionally, CHCNEO currently operates two CHCs, with locations in Afton and Grove.

CHCs offer care to everyone regardless of ability to pay or insurance status, opening access to behavioral health, chronic disease management, preventative services, and oral health to improve the quality of life and longevity of the communities they serve.

Further, research from the National Association of Community Health Centers shows CHCs create savings and promote economic growth through both total economic activity generated and in savings to the entire healthcare system.

Learn More

Northeast Oklahoma municipal representatives interested in future CHCNEO summits or seeking a copy of the information packet provided at the Aug. 16 session should contact Hillard at 918-257-8029 (office), 918-219-4486 (mobile), or lhilliard@chcneo.org.

For more details about CHCNEO or to schedule an appointment, call (918) 257-8029, (918) 801-7504, or visit www.chcneo.com.