By MAUREEN DOLAN
The largest primary health care provider in North Idaho is reducing its staff and scaling back expansion efforts.
Heritage Health CEO Mike Baker said 30 positions were eliminated Friday from the Coeur d’Alene-based organization’s staff of 320.
The move is largely driven, he said, by uncertainty about the future of health care at the state and national levels.
“Unfortunately, the lack of meaningful change in our state’s health care system means that our current trajectory is unsustainable for us — or anyone else — if we don’t get back to basics,” he said.
Heritage Health, which serves patients who often don’t have access to other health care providers, grew almost 300 percent in the past seven years. In 2009, there were 33,054 patient visits to Heritage Health. In 2016, there were almost 130,000 patient visits.
But policy changes have not kept up with the demand, Baker said.
“Our growth has absolutely been necessary to meet the need that exists for patient services in our community,” Baker said. “However, the game has changed, and we have to provide more care more efficiently. Our restructuring is a recognition of the need for a new model of health care that puts the patient-doctor relationship above the onerous bureaucracy that has dominated our nation for the last decade.”
Heritage Health expects to see even more patients in the coming year, he said, but their focus now will be on providing meaningful patient experiences rather than growth.
Many of their patients are adults who fall into the so-called Medicaid Gap, meaning they are low-income adults who aren’t eligible for coverage under President Obama’s health care law, nor do they qualify for Medicaid. Idaho is among the states that did not expand Medicaid to cover this group. Baker said an estimated 7,000 to 10,000 people fall into that gap.
“If we go away, where would these people go?” Baker said.
The workforce reduction at the health center will be mainly among positions not directly involved in patient care, primarily middle management positions.
“We met with our teams this morning, and it’s heartbreaking,” Baker said. “But they understood and they were supportive. That just says a lot about the caliber of people we have working here.”
Baker also emphasized the need for community support.
“Of course, we will continue to seek financial support for the work we do, but those affected by our reduction in staff will need support as well.... This is going to be a hard time for people who have given a lot to making our community a better place.”