Growing up in the Cherokee community before gaming and economic development made its way there, Casey Cooper said there may have been limited wealth and community infrastructure, but there were brilliant people around him.
“I remember growing up around all these people that were just absolutely brilliant,” he said. “They had the capacity to do wonderful things; they just didn’t have the resources to make it happen.”
With continual encouragement from Mary Frances Hess, his high school health occupations instructor, Mr. Cooper overcame any insecurities he had about being successful in college and enrolled in nursing school.
“I had a desire to nurture and heal people and to relieve suffering,” Mr. Cooper shared as his main driver to pursue nursing. “I also thought nursing could be a way to escape poverty and have a good income, especially since I was entering college during a national nursing shortage.” Most of all, he wanted to live up to what Ms. Hess knew he could become. “I was afraid to fail, but I was more afraid to let down Ms. Hess,” he said.
Today, Mr. Cooper is the Chief Executive Officer of the Cherokee Indian Hospital Authority having focused his entire career on the health-related needs of the approximately 15,500 enrolled Tribal Members of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians (EBCI). As an enrolled member of the EBCI, he has been involved in American Indian health care for more than 25 years and has served as a Primary Care Nurse, Community Health Nurse, Nurse Educator and Nursing Manager.
Mr. Cooper received a Bachelor of Science Degree in Nursing from Gardner-Webb University and an MBA from the University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill. He is a former Fellow of the American College of Healthcare Executives. In addition to his service with Dogwood, Mr. Cooper is committed to many regional, state and national organizations to include serving on the boards of Western Carolina University, MAHEC and the Cherokee Historical Association as well as serving on the CMS Tribal Technical Advisory Committee and the American Hospital Association’s Rural Health Task Force.
“There’s a common denominator with my board and community service positions,” Mr. Cooper explained. “They are geared towards strengthening rural, and in some cases, rural and native communities.”
Mr. Cooper and his wife, Jill, have three children: Jack, Kate and Mary. They reside in the Birdtown Community in Cherokee.