GRANGEVILLE After more than two years of discussion and planning, Syringa Hospital’s board of trustees signed an agreement Feb. 1 for Syringa Hospital District to affiliate with Kootenai Hospital District in Coeur d’Alene.
“This just makes so much sense,” explained Syringa board chair Al Bolden of White Bird. “Small independent critical access hospitals across the nation have been failing. Those who are surviving are the ones who have affiliated with larger hospitals.”
Bolden said he and other board members have visited Kootenai and have a sense of a “very good atmosphere among the people” in the entire organization.
“This is a move to help ensure the sustainability and viability of Syringa,” Bolden emphasized.
Board vice-chair Steve Didier of Kooskia agreed.
"This is a move to help ensure the sustainability and viability of Syringa.”
— Al Bolden, chair, Syringa Board of Trustees
“Kootenai saw a need to extend their good neighbor policy and basically to help keep Idaho patients in Idaho,” he said. “It is a magnet hospital that draws people to its facility, and I agree with Al that you can feel that energy.”
Trustee Paula Calceterra of Harpster said she is impressed with the “generosity” in the affiliation contract.
“As a nurse and nurse educator for the past 45 years, I have seen a lot of contracts,” she said. “I feel what they are offering us is wonderful. I really appreciate their philosophy of everyone being invested and ‘owning’ a piece of the hospital.” She said she wants to help make sure employees have a voice.
The access to resources is the main attraction to an affiliation, Didier said.
“From purchasing to the education aspects for our doctors, staff and EMTs, it’s huge,” he said. “Not to mention they have an entire policy department.” This department has people who keep up to date with all policy changes in the health care industry, including Medicare and Medicaid changes, which occur frequently, as well as changes and additions within the Affordable Health Care Act.
Didier emphasized that Syringa is not selling anything to Kootenai.
“The only way hospital districts can purchase one another is to be located adjacent to each other,” he explained. “Geographically, that is obviously impossible. We are not selling Syringa.”
The board is holding a special meeting today, Feb. 22, and will meet at its regular monthly time Feb. 28, as it nails down its CEO search. Current CEO Joe Cladouhos retires next month.
Following the trustee election March 14, Didier said, the affiliation contract could be extended to add assistance with Syringa’s CEO search.
“This could be very valuable to us, as recruitment and searches are quite expensive,” Didier said. This portion of the affiliation would not go into effect until April 1. Kootenai director of rural relations Casey Meza (formerly the CEO of St. Mary’s and Clearwater Valley hospitals) would be a help to Syringa in its CEO search, Didier said. The search for a new CEO is expected to take five or six months. An interim will be appointed in the meantime.
“And being affiliated is a draw to medical staff, as well,” Bolden added.
The trustees made clear the Syringa board will still manage the hospital.
“The affiliation does not change the jobs or duties of the board or the management of the hospital at all,” Didier said. “What is does is give us a larger amount of resources at our fingertips.”
Calceterra has high hopes the education and training resources will allow medical providers the ability to learn more procedures and therefore allow patients to have this care in Idaho County rather than go elsewhere.
“I think saving travel time for people will be a big plus,” she said. “It also helps Syringa remain on the cutting edge.”
The trio said they have received some comments from patrons about “Why didn’t you do this sooner?”
Didier explained that though talks have been in the works for quite a while, it has been the board education conferences and seminars in the past year or so that have really hit home about the changing face of health care.
“All of those workshops have talked about the only viable hospitals being the ones who are forging partnerships,” he said. “All the sudden it was bearing down on us like a big freaking freight train.”
“We saw the light,” laughed Calceterra, who said the board is in agreement on its need to affiliate and move forward.
Former board chair Dave Green, along with Cladouhos, approached Kootenai’s CEO just more than two years ago and found the perfect fit.
“The CEO had incorporated this type of affiliation model when he worked in Montana, and Kootenai was looking to expand into the five northern counties,” Didier said.
Calceterra said she is excited about the changes.
“Changes make for growth and, though it may be painful at times – because change is difficult – it’s also good,” she said. “I think this is the perfect opportunity to help define what our hospital will be for the next generation.”