Flathead hospitals finalize affiliation pact

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The governing boards of North Valley Hospital and Kalispell Regional Healthcare System have finalized how the Whitefish hospital will operate under the Kalispell Regional’s umbrella.

On March 28 the boards reached an agreement in the governance bylaws that established North Valley Hospital as an affiliate of Kalispell Regional Healthcare System. The new relationship goes into effect May 1.

North Valley Hospital will become an affiliate by joining Kalispell Regional Medical Center and The HealthCenter under the umbrella of Kalispell Regional Healthcare System, integrating the organizations both clinically and financially.

Velinda Stevens, Kalispell Regional Healthcare’s president and chief executive officer, said in a prepared statement that the move made sense because the hospitals often overlap patients and resources.

“By aligning our organizations, this affiliation will allow us to focus on coordinated care within our community, allowing more patients to access services they need locally versus foregoing care or traveling out of the area,” Stevens said.                     

In October 2015, the two governing boards voted in favor of a non-binding letter of intent to explore the possibility of the affiliation. Since then, the boards and senior leadership have worked to create the structure of the affiliation.

North Valley Hospital will continue to employ its own staff, but its employees will fall under the charge of Kalispell Regional Healthcare. There are no plans to eliminate jobs or any planned layoffs at either facility based on the agreement.

The agreement further states that consolidation of employee benefits will occur, but hospital administrators have stated the impact of the new benefit package will vary with each employee.

The hospitals will maintain their reporting structures to each respective governing board, but will create a shared governance by having board members of each organization serve on the other’s board.

Both facilities will operate as separate critical access and acute care hospitals, though there will be an increased effort to share physicians and other staff between the establishments.

Currently, there are fewer than 50 employees shared by both North Valley Hospital and Kalispell Regional Healthcare.  

The agreement established that an annual report on the progress and community benefits will be released for at least five years.

North Valley Hospital will continue to participate with Planetree International, a nonprofit hospital that prioritizes patient-centered care in healing and natural environments. According to the agreement, the hospital will maintain its tax-exempt status, charitable mission and name as it operates under Kalispell Regional Healthcare System.

North Valley Hospital is expected to continue to offer its emergency department, delivery services, and inpatient and outpatient medical or surgical procedures.

North Valley’s Critical Access Hospital status is not altered by the agreement; however, the federal government is re-evaluating the requirements of Critical Access Hospitals, which could result in the loss of the status for the Whitefish hospital, according to information provided by the hospitals.

Jason Spring, chief executive officer of North Valley Hospital, said the organizations have worked together for years by sharing resources, facilitating the electronic use of health-related information and creating a joint community health needs assessment.

“We are excited to formalize our relationship so we can more effectively work together and expand our efforts to provide accessible and affordable health care for our community,” Spring said.  

Transition work groups currently are working to shape the administrative business functions, such as how employee benefits and overall communications will play out.

Reporter Katheryn Houghton may be reached at 758-4436 or by email at khoughton@dailyinterlake.com.

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