GRANGEVILLE – “My competitive nature had my hackles up a bit at first,” Syringa board chair, Leta Strauss, said at the Aug. 27 meeting. “I had to realize that everything does not have to be that competitive.”
Strauss spoke to Jeremy Evans, executive vice president of operations at Kootenai Heath out of Coeur d’Alene, who attended the meeting. Syringa entered an affiliation with Kootenai in 2017 and currently has a management services agreement with the healthcare organization.
Evans attended the meeting to discuss the recent announcement that Kootenai has entered into a letter of intent to transfer ownership of critical care access hospitals St. Mary’s in Cottonwood and Clearwater Valley in Orofino from Essentia Health (the current Minnesota-based owners) to Kootenai Health.
Evans said Kootenai has been in dialog about the hospitals for about two years. In February, the two hospitals issued a request for proposal to seek a local owner.
“There is no purchase price per se,” Evans explained, but plans for a transfer of ownership to, hopefully, be completed in early 2020. He said the way the hospital is managed would remain virtually the same as it is currently.
Evans explained Kootenai is interested in these facilities to expand its regional reach and preserve high quality healthcare in outlying areas.
“Why?” he asked the board. “Because when it comes right down to it, we want to keep Idaho patients in Idaho.”
He said $244 million in inpatient charges are leaving North Idaho.
“Some of that’s totally appropriate, as the specialty care isn’t available here,” he said, citing burn care and organ transplants.
However, he said with a pulse in the outlying hospitals, it would help to be able to refer patients to services offered at Kootenai Health instead of Spokane or Seattle facilities.
He explained there will be opportunities for consolidating or expanding services between Kootenai, Syringa, St. Mary’s and Clearwater Valley.
“And we know part of this, as we go forward, is about balancing relationships,” he added. “We aren’t pitting more emphasis on one property over another.”
“I’m excited and also scared about this transition,” trustee Jane Carlson admitted. “Is there a conflict of interest because of the competition between Syringa and St. Mary’s?”
Evans said, historically, there has been competition, but “not all competition is bad.”
“Hopefully, as we continue together, and with the end roads [CEO] Abner [King] has been making with [St. Mary’s/CV CEO] Lenne Bonner, that fear has started to ebb a bit.”
As healthcare continues to move into a different realm, Evans said, collaboration will help all of the hospitals.
“There would be opportunities for specialty outreach, recruiting specialists, perhaps a behavioral health partnership, and, maybe, in the future, a cooperation with the electronic health records system,” he said.
Evans said though Kootenai is an independent facility, they also realize they must be collaborative.
“We cannot do it alone and be the type of high-quality regional healthcare facility we want to be,” he said.
Evans said Kootenai is not in a “predatory mode” or “who can we acquire next?” but has been asking, “Where do we fit in? How can we make a difference in Idaho?” he said.
During the medical staff report, Dr. Matthew Told reported that Evans spoke to the medical staff and “alleviated a lot of concerns” they have with Kootenai’s intent to purchase St. Mary’s and Clearwater Valley hospitals.
“We are cautiously optimistic, and hope to stimulate future discussions,” Told said.