It has been said that a little competition never hurt anyone. It pushes people to do their best and achieve great success. But for the hospitals in the five northern counties in Idaho, they have found success through collaboration, not competition.
For the last 27 years, the Northwest Hospital Alliance, previously known as the North Idaho Rural Health Consortium, has worked together for the benefit of the five northern counties—Bonner, Boundary, Benewah, Kootenai and Shoshone.
”The guiding principle behind the Alliance is that it makes more sense to work collaboratively rather than competing against each other,” said Sheryl Rickard, the CEO of Bonner General Health in Sandpoint.
Craig Johnson, CEO of Boundary Community Hospital in Bonners Ferry, said that there is nothing quite like the Northwest Hospital Alliance in the state of Idaho. “The Northwest Hospital Alliance is unique because we work collaboratively for the betterment of health care in North Idaho,” said Johnson.
Rickard, Johnson and the CEOs from the other three hospitals—Benewah Community Hospital, Kootenai Healthand Shoshone Medical Center—make up the board of the Northwest Hospital Alliance.
By working together, each hospital is confident that they can improve the quality, efficiency and cost of the health-care services they bring to each community.
“We are all committed to remain independent hospitals, recognizing that there are things that we can do together to ensure that independence,” said Rickard.
Through grants received due to their collaborative efforts, the Alliance has been able to provide education that would not have been possible if each hospital worked independently from one another.
“We have also been able to reduce cost by participating in group purchasing,” said Rickard, who cites Meditech conversion, medical waste joint pricing and MDStaff physician credentialing software as some examples.
But it is not just the CEOs who meet through the Alliance. Each hospital has specific departments that also collaborate on a less regular basis than that of the CEOs who meet monthly. Some of the Peer Groups who meet include CFOs, nurse managers, facility directors, emergency management coordinators, human resource directors, information systems directors, laboratory directors, quality/performance improvement directors, rehabilitation directors, community development directors and credentialing specialists.
Caryl Johnston, director of the Northwest Hospital Alliance, said the peer groups have provided a benefit to all involved. “Collaboration through these peer groups creates an environment of trust and communication,” said Johnston. “The peer groups provide a great resource for those at all the hospitals and allow those in similar roles to come together and share ideas.”
Johnston said because of the education that happens in these peer groups, a patient who is transported to Kootenai Health may even be able to bypass the emergency room and go straight to surgery or wherever they may need treatment. “The smaller hospitals know how to prep and transport the patient. This saves time, and time often dictates outcomes,” said Johnston.
Craig Johnson shares that Boundary Community Hospital and the residents of Bonners Ferry have benefited greatly from the relationships formed in the Alliance.
“As a Critical Access Hospital in a small community, it is important that we be aligned with other hospitals so that in an emergency, the transition of the patients in our care to other higher levels of care can be seamless,” said Johnson. “Many patients who may have been transported to another facility in an emergency return to our hospital for rehabilitation and post-acute care. As part of the Alliance, we are connected together through medical records, test results, digital imaging and even providers of care. For example, the cardiologist that has Specialist Clinic hours on Mondays in Bonners Ferry is from Kootenai Health in Coeur d’Alene.”
Chief nursing officer for Boundary Community Hospital, Tari Yourzek, RN, BSN, said that the hospitals share many patients and that transition of care is critical. “All of our peer groups have seen a seamless transition of care,” said Yourzek. “We are all seeking to provide the same standard of care, and even though we are in a rural area, we at Boundary Community Hospital have state-of-the-art equipment and provide quality patient care.”
She said the fact she and her coworkers are able to meet face-to-face with their peers in the other facilities who make up the Alliance is extremely beneficial to all.
“When you get to know who’s on the other end of the line, the walls do not exist,” said Yourzek.
One of the goals of the Alliance is for individuals to be able to stay in their own community for their health-care needs. The members of the Alliance have had a longstanding agreement to not advertise in one another’s counties unless that county does not provide the services advertised.
One significant advantage of the collaboration is that all of the hospitals, with the exception of Shoshone Medical Center, share the same electronic medical record, which allows the receiving hospital to have a plan in place before a patient arrives, which can sometimes save a life.