Jon Ness paused between workout cycles during lunchtime Monday at Peak Fitness. A friend had stopped by and expressed appreciation for Kootenai Health maintaining its strong, independent stance as a community-owned hospital.
Ness, the hospital's CEO the past four years, clearly relished the exchange. In an increasingly competitive medical field dominated by big boys, he acknowledged that Kootenai Health is an underdog.
But this underdog is winning.
Ness has been quarterbacking that underdog to victory after victory, sometimes to resounding cheers and, other times, to shrugged shoulders of indifference or even name-calling and boos from the opponents' stands. But with full support from the coaching staff - the hospital's trustees - and a superior team around him, Ness & Co. have pushed Kootenai Health into perhaps its greatest expansion phase in history.
While other hospitals in the region are being gobbled up by bigger outside interests - in just the past year or so, it's happening in Bremerton, Tri-Cities, Puget Sound, Yakima, Seattle and Missoula - Kootenai Health has been adding doctors, peripheral businesses and services for heart and cancer patients, among others, and has just broken ground in the last week on a dynamic $57 million hospital expansion.
Tuesday's news of Kootenai Health becoming a member of the prestigious Mayo Clinic Care Network does more than provide elite-level services to local hospital patients; it's sustenance for the hospital to grow stronger in its quest to deliver what patients need and want. Although it unquestionably increases the value of our community hospital even more, the Mayo affiliation actually bolsters the bulwark against conglomerates eager to snap it up. A strong, independent, fiscally sound community-owned hospital has no reason to entertain suitors.
From an economic perspective, the KH-Mayo Clinic Care Network affiliation is solid gold. By strengthening its ability to provide services equal to or better than what's available in Spokane or, in many cases, Seattle, much of the $60 million-plus that flows from North Idaho into eastern Washington each year now can stay here. There's no reasons for locals to seek services elsewhere.
Further, more patients from Canada, Montana, central Idaho and perhaps even eastern Washington will discover the quality of service available in Coeur d'Alene and bring their health issues and financial resources here. That money doesn't leave, either, as it would if Kootenai Health were owned by outside interests. It stays in our community and cycles through many sets of hands.
The Press applauds Kootenai Health on its acceptance into the Mayo family. In particular, we appreciate the determination of the hospital's trustees to keep the community hospital fiscally strong and completely independent without leveraging property taxes, as they could do if they so wished. Paul Anderson, Dr. Ernest Fokes, Liese Razzeto, Dr. Terence Neff, Dr. Neil Nemec, Katie Brodie and James Eisses - your community thanks you.
And Jon Ness, a tip o' the cap to you, sir. This underdog is looking more and more like the favored team.