Benefiting patient care through staff education

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Courtesy photo Kimberlee Wassink, speech language pathologist, works with patient Teagan Bartoo at Kootenai Health Rehabilitation Services.

As a foundation that supports health care in our community, the majority of our donations go directly toward hospital facilities, technology, and new services. However, there are many ways that donor gifts can indirectly impact patient care by helping staff members further their education or training, and help future health care providers get started on the right foot.

When we invest in the education of our employees, we improve patient care by bringing new, innovative ways of treating patients, and ultimately help propel our organization closer to its mission. Health care is an industry of constant change and evolution, reinforcing the need for health care providers to learn and grow within their profession.

This year, because of the generosity of donors, the Foundation provided 17 scholarships totaling $13,500 to support higher education for Kootenai Health employees and teen volunteers. We currently have three scholarship funds available.

The Kim Svee Memorial Scholarship program is open to Kootenai Health teen volunteers who have a minimum of 200 volunteer hours at Kootenai and who plan to continue their education beyond high school. This scholarship was named to honor Kim Svee, a former teen volunteer who passed away in 1984 due to a car accident. The funds have been generated by gifts from Kim’s family, other community donors and hospital employees.

“For our family, the scholarship is truly a way to honor Kim,” Laurie Thomas, Kim Svee’s sister, said. “When you read the essays from the volunteers on what they gained from the program — compassion, leadership, communication, confidence — the messages have been consistent since 1985. You can’t help but feel pride and excitement for them.”

The Clinical Excellence Scholarship was established by donations from the Yuditsky family to assist clinical employees with continuing education costs as they pursue advanced degrees to enhance patient care and overall clinical excellence.

“My parents established the Clinical Excellence Scholarship to further support employees as they progress in their careers and earn higher credentials. Many of these people are balancing going back to school with a full-time job and family responsibilities; we want to do what we can to help them,” Bob Yuditsky said. “Kootenai Health has always done a great job in supporting their employees advance in their careers. As a committee member for this scholarship, it’s very apparent that the directors and supervisors truly know and care for their employees and have the ability to align the scholarship with the hospital mission.”

Sarah Pierce, CRNA, and her family established the Pierce Family Scholarship as a means to assist any employee of Kootenai Health with continuing job training and education costs as they further or pursue new job skills. Sarah began her career at Kootenai Health and believes this scholarship is a way to pay-it-forward and honor employees who are devoted to advancing their careers within the Kootenai Health organization.

Scholarships like these help our local health-care professionals grow in their field and bring new services to our region. While this certainly benefits recipients, it also benefits our patients. For example, in 2017 we were able to cover the costs for 12 speech language pathologists and occupational therapists, and four other therapists from the surrounding area, to participate in the renowned Beckman Oral Motor Assessment and Intervention training. This special hands-on therapy technique focuses on training muscles of the face, lips, cheeks, tongue, and throat for speaking and swallowing. Within just two weeks of applying the new treatment methods, the Beckman-trained therapists noticed rapid patient improvements — even breakthroughs. One patient, a little girl named Teagan Bartoo, now 3 years old, has a genetic disorder that affects muscle tone. She went from eating solely through a feeding tube to chewing and swallowing desired foods such as crackers, ice cream and chocolate.

“One of the best things about this therapy is that it can be applied across disciplines to improve outcomes in patients of all ages,” Kimberlee Wassink, speech language pathologist, said. “We are so grateful for the kind donors who, through their gifts to the Kootenai Health Foundation, have given therapy staff hands-on tools to teach patients to help themselves and to provide families with the power to make a difference in their loved one’s recovery.”

Having experienced the scholarship process, I have been struck with how there are always more deserving employees and teen volunteers than there are funds to support them. If you are interested in donating to a scholarship fund, or have questions about other ways to support your local hospital, call the Kootenai Health Foundation at 208-625-4438 or email jholt@kh.org.

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