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EDITORIAL: Kootenai Health stands at new crossroads

| September 11, 2022 1:00 AM

Let the scrutiny begin.

The community-owned hospital where generations of North Idahoans have been born and cared for throughout their lives is at a crossroads. In this complex, rapidly changing world, Kootenai Health is analyzing options for its — and your — future.

On the table is consideration of switching models from a hospital district to a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit.

To put just a few specimens on the operating table for public scrutiny — go ahead, commence poking and prodding — here’s a list of frequently asked questions prepared by the hospital: https://bit.ly/3Dc9FOg

But that’s only the beginning. The hospital’s board of directors and its CEO, Jon Ness, aren’t pulling some midnight caper and announcing after the fact that they’ve done a massive switcheroo. They know that the public’s understanding of options and its input into the best path forward are critical. It is, after all, the public’s hospital, not theirs.

One of the points certain to raise powerful arguments is that in the not-for-profit model, the hospital board is appointed rather than elected. Until very recently, few locals paid any attention to hospital trustee races. Rare was the citizen who could, without cheating, name a single member of the Kootenai Health board.

But that’s changing, thanks to an unhinged assault on institutional pillars like education and medical care.

Look no further than North Idaho College to see what can happen when political zealotry and petty personal agendas kick expertise and true community service to the curb. The travesty that turned the NIC board upside down, sparked in no small part by administration’s cautionary stance against COVID-19, could conceivably be replicated in an all-out takeover of the Kootenai Health board.

While that certainly isn’t the engine driving the hospital’s exploration of a better way to serve patients and remain financially healthy and independent for generations to come, overall leadership might just be the most important question of all. For those of us who will always prefer actual qualifications over political affiliations, it's also perhaps the most easily answered.

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