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Syringa continues Kootenai affiliation talk

— Syringa Hospital’s board of trustees is gaining momentum for a possible affiliation with Kootenai Health as they continue work on the facility’s strategic plan.

“We want to be as transparent as possible as we go forward,” said trustee Al Bolden of White Bird. “Our primary goal as a board is to keep a viable hospital open in Grangeville.”

The board will delve into its strategic planning Sept. 13 with consultant Lorraine Roach.

Currently, Syringa Hospital and Clinics writes off about $1 million a year in bad debt.

“That’s far more than we bring in with the tax money,” said CEO Joe Cladouhos.

He explained 25 percent of area residents do not have health insurance, many falling into the gap between Medicard/Medicaid and government health care.

“Federal regulations for medical reimbursements are continuing to change and decrease,” Claduohos explained. “All trends point to it becoming increasingly difficult for an independently owned rural hospital to survive.”

According to the National Rural Health Association, since 2010, 55 rural hospitals across the U.S. have closed, with 283 more on the brink of closure.

“We want Syringa to be in the very best position to survive as changes in health care and payments continue to occur,” Bolden added.

In trying to plan ahead for the next decade or more, the board has spent the last year or so looking at affiliation with another, larger hospital. At this time, they have settled on Kootenai Health as it is also a taxing district and has a record of affiliating with other smaller hospitals including those in Kellogg, St. Maries, Benewah and Sandpoint.

Trustee Steve Didier of Kooskia explained the board has begun to look at the issues “sooner rather than later.”

Though the men agreed Syringa Hospital is currently in a good financial position and running in the black, rural hospitals are leaning more and more toward difficult times.

“Our CEO, Joe, is getting ready to retire [in 2017] and that is one reason we are seriously considering an affiliation at this time,” he said.

Didier made it clear that Syringa will not be purchased by or merged with Kootenai Health.

“Their goal is to keep Idaho patients in Idaho,” he said. A connection with Kootenai would allow for help in a number of areas including training for physicians, nurses and other hospital staff, purchasing and management services to help recruit and hire a new CEO.

“The process of hiring a CEO is very time consuming and expensive,” Bolden said.

The three — who met with Free Press and Tribune reporters yesterday, Tuesday, Sept. 6 —made it clear that an affiliation will not mean loss of control.

“All hospital decisions would still be under local control by the board,” Didier emphasized. “Nothing formal in place right now. We are still simply talking about — and leaning toward — the connection with Kootenai.”

Cladouhos said most patients who leave Grangeville for healthcare head North to Lewiston and also on to Sacred Heart in Spokane, Wash.

“Kootenia would like to retain patients in Idaho, though just because there would be an affiliation would not mean Syringa patients would have to go to there – of course, they are always free to go where they choose,” he said. “Our physicians, nurses and leadership team are all on board with Syringa having a formal relationship with Kootenia.”

The board will be planning community education sessions to discuss the potential alliance with Kootenai and to answer questions hospital patrons may have. The next regular monthly board meeting is on tap for Tuesday, Sept. 27, at the Soltman Center, 12:30 p.m. The public is encouraged at all board meetings.


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