David C. Pate: Idaho’s locally owned health system just wants to lead


February 2, 2014 

I think the early Idaho pioneers who founded St. Luke’s would be dismayed about recent federal decisions regarding the future of their prized creation. I also think their descendants who now own St. Luke’s, the state’s only locally owned and governed health system, will come to understand how corrosive the court action has been.

I will set aside the significant confusion and errors of fact, particularly around costs, that have persisted throughout the course of the action. I want to focus on the community asset and facts that should concern every resident of our community.

From its beginnings at the turn of the 20th century as a frontier hospital, St. Luke’s has innovated for its communities. St. Luke’s started Idaho’s first open-heart surgery program and only children’s hospital. These two examples of many have meant high-quality care close to home.

While such efforts might not be unusual in bigger cities, they face significant challenges to establish and maintain in an area like ours that doesn’t attract as many physicians, especially in light of a nationwide physician shortage that only continues to get worse.

The innovations have continued in recent years, with a multimillion-dollar electronic records system, new outreach programs for critical health needs, and new approaches that approach health in an ongoing fashion, rather than isolated events to be treated or fixed.

These things have been possible because of the ownership agreement St. Luke’s has with its communities. The communities own this asset; that is not true of any other health system in Idaho.

St. Luke’s leaders and the boards of community members, among them our most respected business owners whose families have been Idaho residents for generations, have recognized for a long time that health care is unsustainable in its current form. We knew that it would require a huge financial investment and take years to accomplish. Your neighbors decided to transform health care on your behalf because it was the right thing to do.

The judge who presided over the trial agrees.

In his recent decision, Judge B. Lynn Winmill complimented us for our “foresight and vision.”

It’s unfortunate that some, who have been well served by the status quo, are so afraid of change that they have needed to provide misinformation and inaccuracies. We saw this in court; we’ve seen it in coverage.

The same thing could be said on a national level; one of the more overlooked aspects of the legal action was the way very old federal laws, developed for manufacturing and industries in population-dense parts of the country, conflict with newer laws designed to encourage the sorts of things St. Luke’s is trying to do.

St. Luke’s is not and has never been satisfied with the status quo. Our relationship with Saltzer Medical Group was predicated on our mission: to improve the health of people in our region. Judge Winmill indicated that he was “convinced that it would have that effect if left intact, and St. Luke’s is to be applauded for its efforts to improve the delivery of health care in the Treasure Valley.”

What health care and the insurance industry have done for decades has not solved our health care crisis. Why wouldn’t, why shouldn’t, an Idaho system lead us out of this mess?

David C. Pate is president and CEO of St. Luke’s.

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