Mary Lee WilliamsPhoto by Choctaw Nation

Mary Lee Williams is the front desk clerk at the Durant Choctaw Community Center. Williams was led to her position thanks to the help she received from CNHSA services.

Texas-raised Choctaw thriving in Oklahoma thanks in large part to CNHSA services

By Christian Toews
May 1, 2023

The Choctaw Nation Health Services Authority (CNHSA) has continued to significantly impact the health and well-being of tribal members and the surrounding community.

With 10 health clinics across the reservation, healthcare has become accessible to even more people.

From October 2021 to October 2022, CNHSA served 71,312 patients.

This number is expected to grow in coming years, according to Lisa G. Isaac, who oversees all patient care services for CNHSA.

“We are always striving to serve more tribal members and to improve our access. It’s very apparent that the tribe feels as though the healthcare needs of our tribal members is very important because they continue to provide us with resources and serve a greater number of people,” said Isaac. “If you look at the expansions that have taken place over the past few years, it’s just been astronomical.”

This emphasis on healthcare is vital for many people living within the reservation but also helps people across the country.

Many people travel from all over the United States to the CNHSA clinics. “We have people who come from all over; it’s ever-increasing. We have had people who will drive their RV to healthcare centers in Oklahoma. They park their RV and get the care they need,” Issac said.

Mary Lee Williams is one example of these out-of-state visitors.

She grew up in San Angelo, Texas, without knowing her Choctaw heritage.

According to Williams, when her grandfather passed away, her grandmother started to share her family history.

Years after discovering her heritage, she found out about everything the Choctaw Nation had to offer.

“I started getting really interested in everything, but we never really pursued it. So later on in my thirties, I came to a festival in Oklahoma and I found out all about the Choctaws,” explained Williams.

At that time, she and her husband, Darryl, Owned a thriving family business in San Angelo that Mary Lee’s parents started.

She then discovered the health care available through the Choctaw Nation and began scheduling appointments and traveling to Talihina for her healthcare.

That was when a CNHSA doctor found that she had developed heart disease. To make her treatment more convenient, Williams and her husband decided to sell their business after 27 years and move back to Oklahoma, where Darryl had grown up.

Through the care of doctors in Talihina, she was able to mitigate the effects of her heart disease and has continued to prevent further complications through the care at CNHSA.

Not long after moving back to Oklahoma and getting control of her heart problems, her husband developed chest pains, and she took him to the hospital in Talihina.

After initial testing, he was scheduled for a procedure on his carotid artery and was recommended to see a specialist in Tulsa.

According to Williams, when the doctor in Tulsa was prepping her husband for surgery, he saw complete blockages in his heart and immediately rushed him into quadruple bypass surgery.

“The doctor said that he wasn’t sure if Darryl would make it through the night if he waited to do the procedure,” said Williams.

Thankfully, the surgery was successful, but the recovery time took much longer than anticipated because of the severity of the damage.

That is when things became even more difficult for the Williams.

She said it took eight months for her husband to recover enough to be sent home.

This time was financially challenging for their family.

The Choctaw Nation stepped in to help them in their time of need.

“I don’t know what we would have done. I thought, gee, family’s not even this good. When you have a close-knit family, you think that it is always gonna work, but there’s often a little conflict or something, but the Choctaw Nation was there to help us through everything, and if they couldn’t help us, they would give us the resources that we needed,” said Williams.

However, the cost of Williams staying in Tulsa with her recovering husband began to eat into the nest egg they had set aside for retirement after selling their business.

The rehabilitation from the heart surgery brought them back to Durant, and they decided to come out of retirement to rebuild some of their savings. One of the first places Williams looked for work was with the Choctaw Nation.

Her motivation was financially driven, but she said that the idea of working for the Nation that had helped her family so much was the main driver to look for work within the tribe.

Williams began working at the casino and then quickly transferred to her current position at the front desk of the Durant Community Center.

She was overjoyed to discover that she would be helping people in similar situations as her family had faced.

“When I came over here, I found out that I’m doing everything they did for me,” said Williams. “Being here, I’m involved with all the programs. We have the forms for all the programs. I can’t tell people what assistance they will get, but I can help them fill out the forms and help them contact who they need to contact and give them information on what may happen and may not happen.”

Williams remembers how she felt when she received assistance, and she loves bringing people that same hope every day.

“I love this job. If I can make anyone feel as good as I felt when I was on the phone saying, ‘I don’t know what I’m gonna do.’ They said, ‘Well, we can do this for you.’ It’s just deja vu over and over,” said Williams. “I love it because people will call me and tell me thank you later. I have lots and lots of thank you cards in my office, and I keep them, and they mean so much to me because it’s so little, what I do, compared to what Choctaw did for us.”

The Choctaw Nation’s services continue to bring hope to desperate situations, whether providing healthcare, jobs, transportation or any other programs available.

These services benefit people on the reservation, the economy of Oklahoma, and those who live all over the United States.

“Here, I never tell people there isn’t any hope because there is hope,” said Williams.

For more information on available tribal services, please visit