Before Jon there was Joe

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Kootenai Health is on a roll, adding a hundred or so good-paying jobs every year while expanding in quantity and quality of medical services. But the good times didn't start the moment Jon Ness arrived four years ago.

That isn't our assessment, by the way. It's Jon's.

Chatting after Tuesday's announcement that Kootenai Health is now a member of the most prestigious family in American medicine - that would be the Mayo family - Ness, the hospital's CEO, lauded the foundation built by his predecessor, Joe Morris.

Ness and Paul Anderson, whose 17 years as a hospital trustee overlap 13 years of Morris's tenure, pointed out that under Morris's leadership, the hospital flourished as a debt-free institution. Under Morris, the hospital built a healthy cash reserve that would ensure its continued operation in the case of a disaster that could last up to a couple of years.

It was Ness who noted that Morris guided the hospital through the worst recession of most Americans' lifetime. An economy that chewed up and spit out lesser medical operations took hardly a nibble out of our local hospital. Kootenai Health, Ness maintains, was poised for the blazing expansion that has occurred over the past few years, thanks largely to Joe Morris. Kootenai Health's acceptance into the Mayo Clinic Care Network and its brand spanking new ranking of No. 1 hospital in Idaho, according to U.S. News & World Report, are testaments to the efforts of many years, not just a few, Ness said.

These are fine times for our community. Did you know that Kootenai County and the Mayo Clinic are both celebrating their sesquicentennials - 150 years - this year? If you were looking for an excuse to party, you've got one.

In your back yard, outstanding public facilities abound thanks to you, voters, taxpayers, patrons. Your schools are points of civic pride, your libraries, vibrant centers of information. They fit well with the prominent place held by your community hospital - the one you own; the one with Joe Morris's fingerprints all over it.

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