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New alliance between Providence, Kootenai Health focuses on expanding access to care

July 06, 2017
Jon Ness - CEO of Kootenai Health and Elaine Couture - CEO of Providence Health Care (photo by the Spokane Journal of Business).

Hospital systems partner to formalize joint efforts

The Kootenai Providence Health Alliance, a nonprofit organization formed between Kootenai Health and Providence Health Care, will place pediatric specialists from Spokane in a Post Falls clinic operated by the Coeur d’Alene-based health system, says the Kootenai CEO Jon Ness.

“We don’t have the population to justify having those physicians here,” Ness says.

“In the area of pediatric cardiology, as a result of this new alliance, our clinic in Post Falls now will have those pediatric experts from Providence,” he says.

Currently, and until the alliance is up and running, North Idaho residents must go to Spokane for access to certain medical specialists, he adds.

Ness says the pediatric cardiology example is one of many that Kootenai Health and Spokane-based Providence Health Care officials had in mind when announcing the alliance at the beginning of June.

The Kootenai Providence Health Alliance is overseen by a board of directors with balanced representation from both Kootenai Health and Providence Health Care.

Ness and Elaine Couture, Providence Health Care’s CEO, are both members of the alliance’s eight-member board. Other Providence Health Care members on the board include Chief Strategy Officer Scott O’Brien, Chief Operating Officer Peg Currie, and Chief Medical Officer Dr. Dean Martz.

In addition to Ness, Kootenai Health representatives on the board include Kimberly Webb, chief financial officer; Liese Razzeto, chairwoman of the separate Kootenai Health board; and Dr. Walt Fairfax, chief medical officer.

The first task of the Kootenai Providence Health Alliance board has been to conduct a national search for a chief administrative officer to oversee the alliance’s efforts.

“The search has been underway for about 45 days,” Ness says. “Ideally, we’re looking to fill the position either late summer or early this fall.”

Kootenai Health and Providence Health Care will contribute equal funding for the chief administrative officer position. Providence is handling the recruitment of the position.

A salary for the position hasn’t been established. Current plans call for the chief administrative officer to have office space at Kootenai Health, officials say.

Ness says the partnership could lead to additional employment opportunities for all the parties involved, though that has yet to be determined.

Ness and Couture emphasize that creation of the alliance doesn’t mean the two organizations are looking to become one.

“I want to be very clear, this is not an acquisition or a merger,” Ness says.

Adds Couture, “We’re still competitors, but we shouldn’t compete on quality and patient safety. That’s why this alliance will be good for the community.”

Providence Health Care is the name for the Eastern Washington region of Renton, Wash.,-based parent Providence Health & Services. Its network here includes Providence Sacred Heart Medical Center & Children’s Hospital, St. Luke’s Rehabilitation Hospital, and Holy Family Hospital, all in Spokane; Mount Carmel Hospital, in Colville; and St. Joseph’s Hospital, in Chewelah; plus hospitals in the Tri-Cities and Walla Walla.

Last year, Providence Health Care’s Renton-based parent, and Irvine, Calif.-based St. Joseph Health, formed Providence St. Joseph Health, now the third-largest nonprofit health care system in the country.

Kootenai Health is in the midst of a $45 million second expansion phase under its current master plan at its main hospital, at 2003 Kootenai Health Way, near the northwest corner of U.S. 95 and Ironwood Drive.

Last March, Ness told the Journal that the expansion is part of the Coeur d’Alene-based hospital district’s goal to be recognized as a premier regional medical center in the U.S. by 2020.

Ness and Couture both say there is a long-standing history of partnerships and cooperation between the two medical providers.

The two health systems previously have collaborated in radiation oncology, medical and clinical education, and community health education and promotion programs, Ness says.

Ness and Couture say the goal of a formalized alliance is to better coordinate those efforts and to explore new areas to partner.

“As we each looked at our mission statements and our core values, we asked, ‘Is there a better way for us to coordinate this effort and better serve our constituents?’’’ Ness says.

A major initiative already underway involves Providence Health Care extending the robust electronic medical record system called Epic to Kootenai Health. Epic enables patients to have full and immediate access to their own medical records at any time.

Epic adds additional layers of convenience for patients such as the ability to schedule appointments and send questions to their doctor, Couture says.

“Coming from a nursing background, I can tell you that this is substantial,” Couture says. “It will make the hand-off more seamless from provider to provider.”

The Eastern Washington-North Idaho corridor is filled with commuters and recreationalists going back and forth daily across the respective state borders. Eastern Washington residents who need medical assistance in North Idaho—or vice versa—shouldn’t have to repeat their medical history all over again to a doctor just because they’re on the other side of a border, Couture says.

“The patient gets to avoid repetition, and medical officials will have the ability to have their complete record reducing the cause of harm to the patient,” Couture says.

“Overall, it’s in the best interest of all our communities,” she says. “This isn’t about just getting bigger. It’s about being more impactful.”

This article originally appeared in the Spokane Journal of Business and is used with permission.