Today, maybe more than ever, rural areas face a myriad of challenges to building and maintaining healthy communities, from provider and services shortages, to smaller populations that are older, sicker, and have less money.

St. Mary’s and Clearwater Valley Hospitals and Clinics, along with other rural health organizations, play an important role in helping to meet and manage the health needs and demands of our region’s communities. Understanding the practicalities of having limited resources to work with, it is critical that our hospitals and clinics leverage the strengths of each individual organization to be able to continue to provide the care our patients and communities require.

With the partnership formalized between Kootenai Health and St. Mary’s and Clearwater Valley Hospitals & Clinics this past spring, the opportunity to collaborate for patient care is greatly expanded.

According to Lenne Bonner, CEO, SMH-CVHC, “The ability to begin to function more as a healthcare region, instead of only working at the local level, and to have access to those added resources, is vitally important. We’ve always been able to refer or send out our critically ill patients and, while we can and will continue to do that, we also have access to specialists and can work with them in more ways, like utilizing telemedicine visits, to provide better patient outcomes,” continued Bonner.

“We also have the ability to better share staff and facilities. COVID-19 is teaching us that we have to find creative ways to support all of the healthcare organizations in our region if we want to avoid potential disasters such as bed and staff shortages. We need to make sure that we are all working to our strengths. For instance, one hospital may be better able to care for critically ill COVID patients, another might be a better fit for cardiovascular, trauma, neuro, etc., and yet another may need to handle lower acuity medical patients and convalescent patients needing more therapy services. Individually, we can’t be all things to all people at all times, there just aren’t enough beds or staff for each facility to function alone.”

“Being able to leverage Kootenai’s experience in developing strategies and protocols, not just with COVID-19, but in almost all areas of operations, is another way we are beginning to work together,” said Bonner.

“From participating in daily COVID briefings, to sharing our general ledger, accounts payable and materials management software, and moving to a regional Electronic Medical Records platform (EPIC) IN 2021, we are becoming a stronger organization across the board, and certainly one that is even better prepared and positioned to serve patients in our communities and across the region.”

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