COEUR d’ALENE — According to Dr. Joseph Abate, Heritage Health is in the process of redefining how health care is delivered.
He shared something he felt the clinic's late founder, Lidwina Dirne, would have said to help people understand why places like Heritage are so vital for the health of a community.
"How do you see life? Helping, fixing and serving represent three different ways of seeing life," he said, standing in front of a crowd of more than 60 people. "When you help, you see life as weak. When you fix, you see life as broken. When you serve, you see life as whole. Fixing and helping may be the work of the ego and service is the work of the soul. That’s a great way to represent what we try to to."
Abate said it may seem "new-wavy" and different from what other medical institutions are doing, but at the heart of Heritage's practice is overall health. He said the future of a healthy society means getting away from pharmaceuticals and embracing lifestyles of good nutrition and exercise.
He said this includes health facility visits, group support and education through shared medical appointments. It also includes restoring patient-doctor relationships so physicans have more time to talk to their patients and know what is happening in their lives rather than just treating symptoms.
"In my mind, I think we have to offer these pathways to health," he said. "Instead of just having someone come and tell us your symptoms and try to match a pill to your symptoms and send you on the way, we need to offer pathways to health."
This innovative approach to medical practice and the commitment to serving the underserved and uninsured are just two of the reasons why Heritage Health was inducted into the Idaho Hall of Fame during a special event at Heritage early Tuesday evening.
Heritage, which still houses Dirne Clinic, started as Lake City Health Care 31 years ago. In his nomination letter, Idaho Hall of Fame director Freeman Duncan told of how the clinic began.
"Ms. Dirne became concerned about a friend who had no health insurance and serious medical problem," he wrote. "She decided to form a community health care clinic for the uninsured and underserved. Along with a group of friends, she formed and opened Lake City Health Care in 1985. With one volunteer doctor, the clinic could only handle 30 patients a day. As more people volunteered their services, the clinic grew and was named the Dirne Community Health care Center in 1999, in honor of Ms. Dirne."
"In my years on the board we’ve inducted a lot of worthy people and organizations, but I don’t think we’ve inducted anyone that’s more deserving than you are," Idaho Hall of Fame board member Tony Stewart said. "Congratulations to you."
Heritage Health, a nonprofit, now serves more than 700 patients a day and in 2015 experienced its largest year with 26,000 patients and more than 100,000 patient visits. It has grown to become a health care organization for all residents, with or without insurance, and works with other local health entities to serve a greater number of patients and needs.
Rep. Luke Malek, who spoke at the event, echoed Abate's sentiments about Heritage's approach to health care and the importance of community clinics.
"What Heritage is doing and what the state is doing are integrally tied," he said. "What it means is good things for the people of Idaho."
Malek said Heritage Health “is changing the way we think about health care in Idaho. Here in our community, but also in Idaho. Heritage is an example throughout the state for the way things ought to be done."
Several legislators attended the open house and Hall of Fame induction ceremony, which took place during Health Center Week. Health Center Week is a time for local, state and national leaders to visit local health centers and celebrate the lower healthcare costs, healthier people, jobs and reduced hospital visits the clinics have provided since they were introduced 50 years ago.
"Heritage Health is an example of how to do health care right in the state of Idaho," said Paul Amador, a Republican state house candidate,who also attended the event. "The future is going to be focused on creating healthy living people, not fixing problems, and creating healthy atmospheres for a whole person. Education is part of the healthcare process. People need to learn what they need to do to live healthy lives and Heritage Health is part of that process in our community.
"Health isn't a partisan issue," he continued. "It affects you whoever you are, whatever your party is, and so we all realize that creating healthy communities is important."
Idaho Hall of Fame board member Tony Stewart addresses local city officials, Tuesday, during an Idaho Hall of Fame induction ceremony recognizing Heritage Health for their achievements in community health.
Heritage Health CEO Mike Baker, center, holds a plaque commemorating the clinic's induction into the Idaho Hall of Fame as he’s flanked by Idaho Hall of Fame board members Tony Stewart, left, and Freeman Duncan.