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Baker: Live your best life

by BILL BULEY
Staff Writer | February 14, 2024 1:06 AM

COEUR d’ALENE — Heritage Health, to some, is that place where poor people go for care.

Mike Baker takes that not just as a compliment, but a badge of honor.

“We will always be a place for anybody that needs our health care,” he said Tuesday morning to about 150 people at the Coeur d’Alene Regional Chamber’s Upbeat Breakfast at The Coeur d'Alene Resort.

Baker is the CEO of the nonprofit that provides medical, dental and behavioral health services. He said when people come to Heritage Health, which employs about 400, they’re not receiving lesser care than if they went to a larger hospital.

“We hired these incredible people who care about you,” he said, adding they are “working their butts off trying to improve life for everybody around them.”

In a day of rising health care costs and many without health insurance, many are turning to Heritage Health. It sees about 25,000 patients annually and in the past 15 years, has had more than one million patient visits.

He said Heritage Health sees every patient interaction “as a chance to build a relationship and look at health care from a different lens.”

Baker said they would like to take a minute to celebrate their successes, but there’s too much work ahead. Lessons have been learned.

“We know that we can’t do everything,” he said.

Success requires strong community partners. Heritage Health has good working relationships with Northwest Specialty Hospital and Kootenai Heath.

“We need a whole team around us. We have that,” Baker said.

An expansion dream is becoming reality.

Last year Heritage Health signed a lease for the former U.S. Bank call center on Seltice Way. A 60,000-square-foot facility will become the Coeur d'Alene Center for Healthy Living, a hub for most of Heritage Health's patient-centered services.

The project's groundbreaking is set for later this year, with an estimated two-year completion timeline.

The Coeur d'Alene Center for Healthy Living will encompass diverse health divisions, including therapy, recovery services and dental care, along with the possibility of pediatric dental services.

“We’re working to build a better health care system,” Baker said.

“I’m so excited about the future of the health care system. I know we can really make a difference," he added.

Heritage Health's start can be traced to the 1980s and Lidwin Dirne. Upset by the death of a neighbor who couldn't afford basic health care, Dirne dedicated her life to providing health care to those who couldn't afford it.  

In 1985, Lake City Health Care opened its doors as a volunteer-run, free clinic and operated two evenings per week.

Demand for services soon exceeded the part-time volunteer clinic's capacity and in 1999, the clinic was renamed the Dirne Community Health Center.

In 2003, it became a federally qualified health center and by February 2004, the clinic was a full-time community health center.

"This change allowed for new service lines to be added and more patients to be seen regardless of their ability to pay," according to the website.

The Dirne Community Health Center became Heritage Health in 2013.

Baker said there are still gaps across the health care system, and anyone can find themselves without health care insurance.

“That could be any of us at any point in time," he said.

Baker said people can make decisions every day to improve their health. They can eat better, sleep more and exercise.

“There's nothing more important than our health," he said.

But Baker said many people don't understand the health care system. And as everyone ages, they will need more health care. 

“How do we make sure we give everybody the opportunity to live the best life they can live without having to jump through hoops and all the challenges that are out there?" he asked.

There is an answer. It will require more work, but it's there.

“You have to make health care great again," Baker said.