Kootenai Health, a Regional Referral System


Kootenai Health leaders recently converted one of the classrooms in their Coeur d’Alene hospital into a patient care unit to demonstrate readiness to meet “crisis standards.”

Kootenai Health employees have had a busy week, subjected to constant misinformation regarding their role in the pandemic.

What is Kootenai Health?

Kootenai Health is the primary provider and employer in North Idaho, serving both employers and services alike. Their system features a community-owned 330-bed hospital in Coeur d’Alene and Kootenai Clinic’s integrated multispecialty group practice, covering over 30 specialties at 25+ locations in two states across Idaho and Montana. Kootenai Health has earned national recognition for quality, safety, and patient satisfaction as a Magnet-designated facility, Leapfrog A rating facility, Leapfrog A rating, and Gallup’s Great Workplace five years in a row!

Kootenai Health also enjoys an exceptional relationship with Providence, sharing an electronic health record (Epic) and working together on joint clinical initiatives like radiation oncology programs, physician recruitment drives, and community wellness initiatives. Both organizations remain dedicated to strengthening these ties for mutually beneficial patient outcomes and communities.

This agreement enables both entities to work closely on strategic and operational matters that immediately affect patients, physicians, and other employees. For instance, Kootenai Health’s work with critical access hospitals throughout northern Idaho has helped provide resources and best practices that are shared among partners. Furthermore, through this alliance, both entities are developing more robust regional approaches to recruiting and retaining highly qualified physicians.

Thanks to this non-profit structure, Kootenai Health will become more competitive in an environment that increasingly rewards efficiency and effectiveness. A partnership will give the organization more flexibility in managing financial resources and expand community and wellness initiatives that are not part of core business functions. Kootenai Health will offer additional health and wellness initiatives, such as women’s care, children’s, and community support services. Their new board of directors for Kootenai Health includes representatives from both organizations, with initial members including Elaine Couture (executive vice president and chief executive officer at Providence Eastern Washington & Montana); Scott O’Brien (chief strategy officer of Providence Health Care) and Jon Ness (CEO at Kootenai Health).

About Kootenai Health

Kootenai Health’s mission is to enhance one patient’s health in an atmosphere of professionalism and friendliness, committed to superior quality and safety. Their health system provides services for over 2.4 million people across north Idaho, west Montana, and east Washington; three hospitals and an integrated multi-specialty group practice serve these populations, and they are regularly recognized and ranked as leaders by patients, peers and national organizations – being awarded Magnet status for nursing excellence by Nurses United; Leapfrog A rating for financial management from Leapfrog and Gallup Great Workplace Award winner five consecutive years in a row by Gallup Great Workplace Award winner Gallup Great Workplace Award recipients!

Faced with budget and staff shortage issues caused by COVID-19, hospital district leaders have considered changing how their organization is run. Now is an opportune moment as both Idaho legislature and governor have provided a path for hospital districts to change from being government-owned, with locally elected boards and taxing authority, to becoming private nonprofit organizations.

Kootenai Health could benefit from taking this step by positioning itself more evenly with other hospitals of similar size and scope and freeing themselves of certain restrictions associated with being a government entity – such as holding public meetings and disclosing documents publicly. It should not alter how its current board operates or affect interactions with community members or physicians.

No matter its structure, this organization remains dedicated to serving northern Idaho. For that purpose, they continue collaborating with local medical providers and critical access hospitals throughout Idaho in helping them navigate unique challenges they may encounter, and this relationship should remain intact post-transition to non-profit status if approved.

Mayo Clinic Care Network is a nationally recognized network of healthcare providers sharing resources and best practices. Furthermore, this organization collaborates with the University of Washington Family Medicine Residency Program to train full-spectrum family medicine doctors who will serve rural communities throughout Washington state.

Kootenai Health’s Mission

Kootenai Health strives to become a premier medical destination. They aim to offer clinical outcomes that rank among the best in the nation and create an experience tailored to each patient’s specific needs while ensuring staff has all of the tools necessary for safe work environments.

Kootenai Healthcare Services strives to realize its vision through partnerships and community involvement. One key partner is the Mayo Clinic, providing its physicians with expertise that would otherwise require travel. Thanks to this collaboration, patients can now be seen locally by experts they would otherwise need to travel for.

Kootenai Health Foundation is also an integral partner. This non-profit raises money to support Kootenai Hospital’s mission and continue providing world-class care in North Idaho and surrounding communities.

Kootenai Health remains committed to its patients despite its current financial dilemma. It serves those in Coeur d’Alene, eastern Washington, and western Montana as northern Idaho’s sole regional referral health system. They pride themselves on improving health one person at a time while creating an inviting workplace culture.

Kootenai boasts an excellent track record in employee retention, with staff staying an average of 5.5 years at Kootenai on average and enjoying outstanding salaries. As a public employer, employees qualify for PERSI retirement systems; employees working more than ten years may also be eligible to have student loans forgiven under federal programs.

This organization has a history of working alongside Idaho critical access hospitals across five northern counties. By working alongside these hospitals, they have come to understand their challenges and created an infrastructure of resources and best practices to aid with complex cases; additionally, physicians collaborate on complex issues with specialists from outside their practice. Their network is expanding to encompass IT support and revenue cycle management services.

Kootenai Health’s Vision

Kootenai Health is Northern Idaho’s only regional referral health system, with services covering the Panhandle of North Idaho, western Montana, and eastern Washington. Our system comprises a 330-bed hospital in Coeur d’Alene as well as an integrated multispecialty group practice and Kootenai Clinic that provide 30+ specialties across two states – plus we’re nationally acclaimed for clinical excellence with Magnet designation for nursing excellence since 2006 and Leapfrog A safety ratings! In addition, it launched graduate medical education opportunities with University of Washington-affiliated family medicine residency opportunities – we even won five Gallup Great Workplace Awards!

Kootenai Health CEO Jon Ness believes the alliance with Providence will enable both organizations better to meet patients in today’s changing healthcare environment. It does not constitute a merger or acquisition; existing board members will remain in place – instead, governed by a separate board with equal representation from both organizations.

This partnership has established joint ventures for radiology and urology services while both organizations are working on creating a new care network for patients living in northeastern Washington and northwestern Montana. This network will offer multiple benefits for its patients, such as lower costs and greater convenience.

Another essential initiative is collaborating between two health systems to support critical access hospitals. The partnership will offer non-profit health systems a financial model for transferring ownership while keeping their critical access hospital status. Ultimately, this will increase their ability to stay sustainable while providing local care.

Kootenai Health exemplifies solid regional relationships essential for rural communities’ survival and prosperity. Working alongside critical-access hospitals throughout the region has allowed Kootenai Health to gain insight into their needs and how best they can assist.

Kootenai Health offers employees an attractive defined benefit pension plan through PERSI that becomes fully vested after five years and may be passed onto a designated beneficiary upon retirement. Furthermore, there are 11 paid holidays, generous sick/vacation time allocation, excellent full-time employee benefits such as medical, dental/vision/life coverage, and participation in Montana’s public student loan forgiveness program.