Amid significant growth and an ever-changing health-care landscape, Pamela Robertson, the president and CEO of Kalispell Regional Healthcare, sat down with the Daily Inter Lake on Wednesday to discuss the future of the organization.
Robertson, who assumed her position in August 2017, expressed optimism at a pivotal time for Kalispell Regional. The organization is preparing to phase in several extensive, long-term projects as it weathers the turbulence of high-level personnel changes, state funding cuts and the ongoing uncertainty over the future of the Affordable Care Act.
She acknowledged that the organization is at a transition point after a period of rapid growth. Looking broadly at the many significant developments in the past decade — such as Kalispell Regional Medical Center’s 2015 affiliation with North Valley Hospital and the ongoing construction of the Montana Children’s Medical Center — Robertson said the organization’s decisions have been made “to look to the future, and to really be able to serve the community. And to serve the community in a way that not just enhances care, but also potentially closes gaps in care.”
Kalispell Regional has undertaken several ambitious projects in recent years, such as the Children’s Medical Center, a $40 million, state-of-the-art facility aimed to make Kalispell a regional destination for pediatric care. The first floor of the center, which will contain inpatient services, the pediatric and neonatal intensive care units and the pediatric care center, is slated to open in spring 2019. Another specialty center, the $12.9 million Digestive Health Institute, is set for completion this fall.
The construction projects have “stressed the financial performance of the organization,” Robertson said, but noted that the stress was “as much because at the same time we had some significant Medicaid cuts, about $6.6 million that started in January.”
Those cuts were due to changes to the Medicaid reimbursement rates passed by the Montana Legislature last November as part of a special session to address a $227 million state budget shortfall. The “unexpected” cuts have “required us to really be very thoughtful going forward about ensuring that our financial performance is solid,” Robertson said.
She described that process as a “balancing act” of costs versus building a solid foundation for the future. “As decisions have been made, there’s a realization and understanding that when you make an investment, there’s a time that’s required for the financial dividends to pay off, but the clinical dividends are here and now and present for us.”
Concurrent with the news of the Medicaid cuts, the organization has seen several high-level personnel changes in recent months. The Daily Inter Lake reported in April on a transition in Kalispell Regional’s leadership team when three top executives, the director of its digestive health institute and a contingent of its internal design team either departed or announced plans to retire.
Robertson attributed any staffing changes to reassessments required by the organization’s growth.
“If you look at any hospital system across the nation, ongoing review of your operating expenses is a daily thing that you do,” she said. “We’ve embarked on that kind of review, to ensure that we have the right people, with the right skill set, at the right time. If there are changes to the workforce that need to happen, our goal is to do that through attrition. If that is not possible, then we will try to redesign ourselves around what we need for the future.”
Robertson said the hospital board’s three-year financial plan is an example of Kalispell Regional’s adaptive planning. The collaborative plan has been mapped out “to ensure that we do weather our current financial [situation], and then put us in a very targeted margin to continue to be independent and locally governed. At the end of the day, that’s the goal.”
That plan, she said, includes projections for losses in Medicaid funding if Montana ends its expansion program in 2019.
“We’re going through a little bit of the growing pains,” she said of the personnel changes and financial burdens from construction projects. “But the future is bright and it does require us to ... realign and reshape ourselves to be a true system, so that’s what we’re undergoing at this point.”
Undergirding all the growth, she said, is a strong and supportive community committed to quality accessible health care.
“What we are blessed to have here in this community is a very generous community that supports these projects.”
“We have made significant investments, and those significant investments will pay a financial dividend in the future. We are optimistic about the future of Kalispell Regional Healthcare, and we are committed to continuing to serve the Flathead Valley and the communities outside the valley that we currently serve.”
Reporter Adrian Horton can be reached at email@example.com or at 758-4439.