Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma

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Choctaw Chief Gary Batton

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Chief Batton’s Focus on “Doing What is Right for Choctaws”

Letter to all Choctaws from Chief Gary Batton

Chief Batton began his employment with the Choctaw Nation nearly 27 years ago. He has worked in several capacities at the Choctaw Nation including leadership positions in housing, health and administration. Shortly after Gregory E. Pyle took office in 1997, he appointed Batton to the position of Executive Director of Health and the Choctaw Nation Health System was completely transformed. Chief Batton’s first undertaking after stepping into the role was replacing the Choctaw Nation hospital, a former TB Center constructed in the 1930s, with the state-of-the-art Choctaw Nation Health Care Center, a 37-bed hospital with a 52-exam room outpatient clinic. Upon completion of construction, the $28-million facility was completely debt-free.

While Chief Batton was managing the health system, the patient load grew from 120,000 to over 240,000 and new clinics were constructed in Idabel, Stigler, McAlester, Broken Bow and Atoka to meet demand and improve accessibility for patients. Additional services including ophthalmology, orthopedics, cardiology, physical therapy and a mail-order pharmacy were added.

Batton developed partnerships with other organizations and governments to add even more services to the health system. Through partnerships with OU Health Sciences Center, ear, nose and throat (ENT) services began being offered at Talihina and a program for specialized care for high-risk youth with diabetes was started. A partnership with Eastern Oklahoma State College brought about the establishment of a dental hygienist program. A coalition with the State of Oklahoma and other Oklahoma Tribes led to the establishment of REACH, a program to promote physical activity and reduce the lifetime risks of cardiovascular disease.

Chief Batton is involved in the growth of the entire Choctaw Nation. He continuously looks for ways to improve and expand services. Among his numerous duties, he has served as Chairman of the Choctaw Nation Business Committee where he focused on adding new businesses and expanding and increasing profitability of current businesses to support the priorities of health, education and jobs. When he was appointed, his first initiative was the development of an economic plan that consisted of $385 million in construction to expand the gaming facilities in Durant, Grant, McAlester and Stringtown. With his guidance, tribal businesses have shown a 69 percent increase in profitability and tribal services continue to grow and evolve.

In addition to his job duties, Chief Batton has represented the Choctaw Nation on numerous boards and committees including the National Budget Committee for Indian Health Service, the National Health Service Corps National Advisory Council, and the Tribal Technical Advisory Committee for the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). He currently serves on the Thunderbird Youth Academy Foundation Board, the Children’s Hospital Foundation Board of Advocates, the Choctaw Nation Chahta Foundation Board and the Southeastern Oklahoma State University Foundation Board.

Assistant Chief Jack Austin, Jr.

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Assistant Chief Jack Austin, Jr.

Assistant Chief Austin has had a long career with the Choctaw Nation, beginning employment at the Choctaw Nation Health Care system in 1991 soon after being honorably discharged from the Army. He holds a Master of Education. He began his journey with the healthcare system in the Material Management department – and just prior to being selected as Assistant Chief, Austin was the program director for the Choctaw Nation Recovery Center.

He and his wife, Philisha, have been married 24 years. They have three children. Clark, 18, is attending Carl Albert State College. Malacha, 16, will be a senior next year at Talihina High School. “Sam is our youngest blessing at the energetic age of 4,” said Assistant Chief Austin.

“I feel I was raised in the midst of the tribe during most of my youth. Both parents were, and are still, serving Choctaw people. I have been to many events throughout our Choctaw Nation growing up. I can still remember the State of the Nation address being given by the Chief of that time under a brush arbor on the Council House grounds,” continued Austin.

Attending the Lighthouse Cathedral Church the past 30 years, Austin has served as a board member there the past ten years and enjoys work as a youth pastor, teaching weekly youth classes.

The new Choctaw Chief, Gary Batton, was present as Austin was administered the Oath of Office. According to the Choctaw Constitution, ratified in 1983, the Assistant Chief is appointed by the Chief, and approved by a vote of the Tribal Council.

“Our goals moving forward will align with the tribe’s philosophy to ‘do what is best for Choctaws’,” said Chief Batton. “Assistant Chief Austin, the Tribal Council and I are all looking forward to working together!”