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Syringa eyes affiliation with Kootenai Health

‘Opportunities here in which we are quite serious about pursuing’

— In an effort to continue to support its mission to provide high quality health care to its patients, Syringa Hospital’s board is exploring a new avenue.

A special board meeting was held June 21 with John Ness, CEO of Kootenai Health (KH) in Coeur d’Alene, speaking about benefits of affiliation with KH. KH already has this relationship with four other hospitals in Sandpoint, Bonners Ferry, Kellogg and St. Maries.

“As long as I can remember, Syringa has inquired about collaboration to every hospital within spitting distance,” said board chair Craig Spencer at the June 27 regular meeting. “Until now, we hadn’t found one – but this seems like it just may be a compatible fit.”

Spencer said, though the talks are “definitely in the beginning stages,” there are “opportunities here in which we are quite serious about pursuing.”

“The health network consortium is interesting,” trustee Paula Calceterra said. To be able to negotiate for insurance reimbursement rates and have greater bargaining power, she said, could prove to be helpful, not to mention the education and exchange of idea opportunities.

“First and foremost, we want everyone to know Kootenai has no interest in purchasing the hospital,” explained trustee Steve Didier. The affiliation – should Syringa decide to pursue it – would be a mutually beneficial agreement that would allow Syringa to piggyback on KH’s education of its medical staff as well as a host of other services. Didier explained KH is a not-for-profit taxing district much like Syringa.”

Why would KH offer to provide any association with Syringa?

KH is the most aggressive healthcare organization in Northern Idaho and perhaps beyond, Spencer explained.

“And they have a great incentive to collaborate and keep the dollars in the state as they know $240 million in referrals is going out of state each year,” to other healthcare facilities, Spencer said.

Any type of membership with KH would not be mutually exclusive, explained Syringa CEO Joe Cladouhos, and Syringa could opt out at any time.

“This hospital would maintain its local control – there would simply be more resources available,” he said.

“I am very impressed with the offerings so far, but know we need to spend a lot more time figuring out the details and what might work,” commented trustee Twila Hornbeck, who also said she was excited about the thought of Syringa’s medical providers having other physicians to consult with. She also mentioned the mental health services available through KH and wondered how Syringa may be able to tap into those.

“I agree the contacts with a larger hospital are very important,” trustee Dick Tucker said. “I just want to make sure the public knows we are looking into this but haven’t done anything yet. We want to hear their questions and concerns and we, as a board, have much to learn, too.” He added that recruitment of providers – which has proven tough for Syringa in the past –would be a nice benefit to be able to share with KH.

Clinic manager Michelle Schaeffer said she felt the affiliation might be a “good place to put our toes in the water,” toward this type of collaboration.

“We have known for a long time that as a small, rural hospital we need to do something,” she said.

Spencer reiterated Syringa is not in any type of emergent situation.

“We are fiscally strong and this is a good time to pursue our options,” he said. “We are, again, simply trying to offer the best services possible to our communities.”

The board will discuss this more at the July meeting.


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