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OPINION: Republicans for health care

by MIC ARMON/Guest Opinion
| May 17, 2023 1:00 AM

If you are a regular reader of the Coeur d’Alene Press, you are well aware of the divisive politics railing our community. As a long-standing North Idaho Republican, it was this division and subsequent damage to our community that motivated me and more than 80 other local longtime Republicans to form the North Idaho Republicans group. It’s our belief that we will do more good for our community by developing thoughtful ways to improve our local institutions and quality of life rather than inciting fear and bringing institutions like our community college, schools and libraries to the brink of destruction.

The reality is that running any organization, especially in today’s environment, is complex. The members of North Idaho Republicans understand this because we have all been leaders in the business community for years. I had the privilege of serving on the Kootenai Health board of trustees from 2016-2019. Even coming into that position as an experienced certified financial adviser and accredited investment fiduciary, there was a lot to learn about health care. I am proud of the work we accomplished during my tenure on the Kootenai Health board. That experience coupled with the relationships I developed with Kootenai Health leaders gives me 100 percent confidence that Kootenai Health’s transition to a 501(c)(3) is the best approach they can take to ensure high quality health care, and its position as a strong economic driver, in our community for years to come. Here are a few insights from their website at KH.org/501c3 and my conversations with Kootenai Health leaders.

Only 2 percent of the hospitals in the nation are both a district hospital and the size of Kootenai Health. That number has been shrinking through the years. Why? Health care is more competitive than ever, and being a public hospital means board meetings, including discussions about strategy, new services and finances, are open to the public, including competitors.

Hospitals across the country are struggling financially. Some have even been forced to reduce access to needed care or cut programs entirely. They need every financial opportunity available to keep their doors open and continue to care for their communities. The 501(c)(3) offers financial investment and funding opportunities that are more appropriate for an organization the size and scope of Kootenai Health. It also provides better options to help fund the continued growth that will be needed to keep pace with our growing community.

Kootenai Health is the third-largest hospital in Idaho, and one third of its patients come from outside Kootenai County. It is the regional referral center for all of North Idaho. As a 501(c)(3), Kootenai Health will move from a publicly elected board to an appointed board. Speaking strictly from a business perspective, an organization of this size and importance should have the benefit of board members who are experienced, understand health care, and can thoughtfully represent the full breadth of our community, not only those with whom they politically align.

Continuing that business perspective, here are two more things to consider. First, Kootenai Health is the largest employer in Kootenai County. In 2021, it paid $421 million in employee wages and benefits. Each year those dollars come back into our local economy. If you own or work for a business that sells goods or services, chances are you sell a lot of them to Kootenai Health employees. In 2021, Kootenai Health also spent $333 million on supplies and other expenses and another $28 million on capital costs. Those dollars flow through our local economy as well supporting the vendors and individuals whose products and work help keep our hospital running. Having quality health care close to home is priceless, but having Kootenai Health in our community is also an annual $782 million powerhouse in our local economy. As a community asset, it is simply too valuable to risk entrusting to political whims.

Secondarily, beyond Kootenai Health’s immediate economic impact, it also draws others to North Idaho. In some cases this means new businesses that consider quality health care one of their criteria for relocation. In others it means individuals making the same assessment on a personal scale. We have all watched Kootenai Health’s growth over the past 12 years. While it may have seemed aggressive at the time, I am grateful that back in 2011 Kootenai Health recognized where it would need to be in 2023 to meet our region’s health care needs. The 501(c)(3) model will allow that kind of research and strategy to continue and flow more freely in the boardroom without fear that others with a self-serving agenda are listening in.

Finally, from a traditional Republican values perspective, a transition to a 501(c)(3) means no new taxes and less government. Following the transition to a 501(c)(3), Kootenai Health will no longer be a local taxing authority, which eliminates the possibility of ever taxing local citizens. It keeps the focus on being self-sufficient, something Kootenai Health has done very well since 1995.

If you hold traditional Republican values, are tired of those preaching fear and destruction and are ready to join us in thoughtful approaches that improve our community, rather than tear it down, I invite you to learn what we’re about. Visit us online at NorthIdahoRepublicans.org. You are not alone!

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Mic Armon is a member of the North Idaho Republicans.