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A lesson in gratitude for our hospital

| May 13, 2020 1:00 AM

One of our earliest lessons in life is that it’s better to be safe than sorry.

As we’re relearning in this age of pandemic, it’s also possible to be safe and sorry.

Kootenai Health, a sprawling, multi-layered health care provider that serves as the main hospital for all of North Idaho, has played by every federal and state health guideline since the novel coronavirus hit home in March. Not that it really had a choice, but Kootenai Health’s leadership team played it safe, fulfilling its mandate for safety not just for its patients, but for its 3,600 employees, too.

From the Centers for Disease Control to the Idaho governor to North Idaho-empowered Panhandle Health District, Kootenai Health followed every guideline — literally at a cost of millions.

No elective surgeries. Valuable space and personal protective equipment reserved for the tide of exceedingly sick people who so rudely never showed up. And on top of it, watching a populace that probably could have benefited from hospital-level medical care but chose not to because they were afraid to go anywhere and interact with anyone, even the region’s most respected health care professionals.

Kootenai Health played it safe, and also with no choice, ended up being sorry. As a three-part weekend series in The Press illustrated, hundreds of employees have already taken unpaid time off as the deficit-meter ran from $7 million lost in just the last two weeks of March and on toward twice that in May.

Sorry isn’t over yet, either. Possibly not by a long shot. CEO Jon Ness expects the losses to continue piling up the rest of this month and into June. The long-term impact could last much longer, he said, into 2021 and beyond.

With people losing their health insurance along with their jobs, with a severe recession forecast by many economists, and with fears likely to linger longer about a COVID-19 resurgence keeping some prospective patients away, the well that has sustained Kootenai Health will drop lower. How much is anybody’s guess.

But the message today is not to dwell on the painful situation facing our medical knights in shining armor. It is to acknowledge the stark realities facing almost every industry, and to draw upon some comforting thoughts.

One of those is that the many lessons learned these past couple of months have set up Kootenai Health to handle a real COVID-19 assault if one should arrive. Testing is much faster, and the hospital now has the capacity to treat at least 125 really sick people at once if necessary.

As with most financial scourges, lessons also have led to greater efficiencies, even in areas that didn’t seem like they could be significantly improved. Sometimes, necessity burns away undetected fat and leaves the body healthier.

The Press deeply appreciates what Kootenai Health brings to the community, as well as hospital leaders’ willingness to so openly share information that was not easy to impart. Here’s hoping that being safe and sorry is merely a step in our community’s evolution that will make us all stronger.