COEUR d'ALENE — Six candidates are competing for two open Kootenai Hospital District seats in the May 21 nonpartisan election.
The two current board members whose terms expire this year are Neil Nemec and Mic Armon. Nemec is not seeking re-election, while Armon is.
Others seeking a seat on the board include Steve Matheson, Randil Clark, Liz Godbehere, Jim Dutkiewicz and Cynthia Clark.
Seven people originally filed for election, but Levi Wenglikowski withdrew on April 5.
The top two vote getters will be elected to the board.
Each of the candidates shared some of their background and thoughts with The Press:
Godbehere has worked at Kootenai Health for nearly 20 years, including most recently as an Intensive Care Unit nurse. She said she would resign her per-diem shifts at Kootenai if she's elected because employees can't serve on the board.
"Our hospital is growing and changing, but it lacks trustees who have in-depth knowledge of how those changes impact patients and their families every day," she said.
"I would be one of the youngest board members (at 38), and if our health system and community are going to continue to try to recruit younger workers and serve young families like mine, it's important to have that perspective in the discussion."
Godbehere said she decided to run because she believes she can bring perspectives to a board that is largely comprised of people without patient care experience.
"I would bring an understanding of what happens directly at the bedside and impact that the excellent nursing care has on the community," she said. "Because I've been both a patient and a nurse, I can bring those experiences and voices to the table …"
She said she believes the hospital is mostly headed in the right direction, but thinks it is at risk of losing longtime employees.
"We can't keep delivering excellent Kootenai care if we keep losing our most experienced workers," she said.
Godbehere's full-time job is an organ recovery coordinator.
Matheson, who serves as the county treasurer, said he is running because he wants to be part of the hospital's future.
He said he shares the vision of CEO Jon Ness to expand from a community-owned hospital to a destination medical center.
"I also believe it is critically important to ensure our community is on board every step of the way," he said.
Matheson said he believes his financial background would be an asset on the board.
"I look forward to sharing the best ideas between the hospital district and Kootenai County, thereby improving both public institutions in the process," he said. "A desire for better cooperation likely explains why so many other states statutorily require the county treasurer to serve as the treasurer on the hospital board of trustees."
Matheson has bachelor degrees in accounting and business administration. He also completed the executive management program at the University of Virginia. He has 30 years of experience in markets with large commercial and investment banks.
Matheson said the board must be equally as competent as the hospital's management team since the district represents the largest employer in the area.
"Win or lose this election, I hope to draw greater attention to those representing the community as members of the hospital board," he said.
Clark said that when she saw no nurses were on the board, she wanted to bring the voice of the patients and their families to the table as a nurse.
"Without a nursing presence, their needs can go unnoticed," said Clark, who served in the Army's 101st Airborne Division out of Fort Campbell, Ky. "My co-workers will tell you, when I put my mind to something, I'm very focused and determined. You can count on me to be there, to listen and to stand up for patients and our community."
Clark said hospital growth is great, but as it expands, it must also ensure it’s doing everything it can to keep patient costs down.
"We need to do more to reduce the cost of care for folks who are struggling to pay their health care bills," she said.
Clark said the board needs someone who is detail-oriented and understands the day-to-day workings of patient care. As a registered nurse, she said she would bring that perspective.
"I am used to taking details and managing them to provide cohesive result in care," she said.
Dutkiewicz, a physician assistant with North Idaho Nephrology Associates, said he would bring the perspective of a mid-level provider to the board.
"It seems like the board is always made of financial people and doctors," he said. "I'd add a different perspective with a concern about patient safety and patient care."
He said he would like to see more focus on the patients.
"It seems like the hospital direction is to be more propagandizing and using magnet status when nobody knows what that is," he said. "Whether it's the basis for providing better quality of care makes me wonder.
"My idea is to send the money away from propaganda and into education for the staff."
Dutkiewicz said he's concerned about a rumor that a national company will buy Kootenai because it's financially sound.
He said he may not have a hospital management background, but he has common sense.
"I just take problems that I see, analyze them and make a decision on how to best deal with those," he said. "My knowledge of medicine is going to add an element of decisions for the patients."
Dutkiewicz said he believes Kootenai is headed in a good direction in terms of providing services, but competition should keep it on its toes.
"A lot of patients go across the border, but we want to keep them here in Idaho," he said.
Dutkiewicz’s previous work experience includes stints at Kootenai Health Hand Surgery and Mike Carraher's internal medicine practice.
Armon, a certified financial planner for 40 years, said he has developed a better understanding of the complex world of health care during the past four years on the board.
"During my time serving on the board I have devoted many hours to learning how the health care system works at all levels and its many valuable systems," he said. "It is an active board that works well together with a very good outcome."
He said he believes Kootenai Health is efficiently run and financially sound. Its operating income is up 85 percent over the past seven years, he said.
"A Mayo Clinic Care Network member and an A-rating by S&P is proof that the current board and administration are doing the right things in a very trying industry," Armon said. "Going forward, the board and administration will need to continue to monitor how the ever-changing landscape will affect our local hospital."
Armon, who serves as a commissioner on the ignite cda urban renewal agency, said the area's rapid population growth has spurred a greater need for quality health care and leadership.
"The expansion and growth of health care will continue to be essential to serve our families and friends in their times of need," he said.
Clark, a medical doctor, said his nearly 30 years of serving on Kootenai's medical staff and being a part of the growth make him qualified to be on the board.
He has served in several capacities at Kootenai, including chief of surgery, chief of staff and a member of the Executive Committee. He continues to serve on the Credentials Committee.
"The quality of leadership for Kootenai Health is of paramount importance," he said. "The two positions open on the board of trustees need to be filled with the most experienced candidates available."
Clark, 66, remains active in the practice of urology.
Clark said he wants to help the district through challenges, including financial and medical technology hurdles and institutional size.
"As citizens of Kootenai County, we have had the benefit of an independent medical center owned exclusively by members of the community and not requiring any tax support for well over 30 years," he said. "Many hospitals of similar size across the country have become part of huge hospital corporations, often with policies that may not respect the needs of the local community."
Clark said he believes he has skills in medical care, finance, business management and personnel management that would be an asset to the board.