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Red-Headed Stepchildren of Sanders County

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Red-Headed Stepchildren of Sanders County

Clark Fork Valley Hospital Announces Closure of Bull River Clinic

When in January the Clark Fork Valley Hospital in Plains pronounced that the Bull River Clinic was closing, a tide of disbelief spread throughout the west end of Sanders County. Folks had trusted the CFVH’s mission statement: “Clark Fork Valley Hospital and Family Medicine Network will partner with our communities to improve the health of those we serve.” The planned clinic closure proves this lofty goal falls far short of reality.

Partner with our communities. In February 1994, the newly formed Heron Community Center Board contacted the hospital and offered to pay all remodeling costs, utility fees, rent and provide for a volunteer nurse and receptionist if the hospital could get a Physicians’ Assistant down at this end of the county. Thus, on April 12, 1994, Karen Kooey became the first line of health defense for western Sanders County. CFVH decided the clinic should be in Noxon, so the community helped with the move. When CFVH toyed with the idea of having the clinic in Trout Creek, folks over there got a grant and put ton of volunteer work into remodeling the basement of the Senior Center building, only to have their hopes stomped when CFVH decided on the present location, near the junction of Bull River Highway and Highway 200.

To become a partner with the CVFH, Heron and Noxon people approved a mil levy to support the clinic. This self-imposed property tax is presently raising $20,251 a year to pay rent and utilities. A lot of volunteer hours were spent accomplishing this and more hours are donated to serving on the Noxon Heron Public Hospital District board.

Thousands upon thousands of hours have been donated with the goal of having a clinic close enough to be a literal life-saver. People have canvassed for the mil levy, attended meeting after meeting and have built offices and examination rooms. Folks did this work because of a belief in the ‘partnership promise’ of the Clark Fork Valley Hospital.

It turns out that the hospital did not have the courtesy to allow any discussion of the clinic’s dismemberment with their ‘partners’. They called a meeting and told the local board it was a done deal.

Improve the health. Could any of the medical people associated with the CFVH explain how it will improve the health of folks to remove the only medical facility in a 40-mile radius? The mother of teenagers who tells how the clinic stayed open late to complete some rushed football physicals, the gal who needs fasting blood tests, the fellow with the chain saw gauge in his leg, the guy who goes for physical therapy, the woman who needs a referral to a eye-doctor, the old fart with angina pain, are grateful to have this clinic. Lives have been saved by this clinic. CVFH should take pride in this, and see the value of keeping it open.

Those we serve. The Hospital has not wholeheartedly served the taxpayers in this end of the county. They haven’t promoted wellness activities that are commonly offered at the east end clinics. Rather than helping their so-called ‘partner,’ Noxon Heron Public Hospital District, search for rural health funding, CFVH took their ball and went home.

Being treated as the red-headed stepchildren of Sanders County is not new for folks living west of Trout Creek, but this is a new extreme of neglect. And this is being rained down upon us because, according to Deb Green, director CFVH’s four clinics: “folks are using the Bull River clinic for emergency service and urgent care but taking more advanced treatments with facilities outside the CFVH system.”*

Yes, rural people are being deprived of urgent care because they take their business—advanced treatments—to physicians and hospitals in Sandpoint or Libby. Is this not the most cynical and self-serving reason ever given for removing emergency medical care from rural people?

The geography of the Clark Fork Valley has not changed since the first clinic was established 1994: Heron is still 75 miles from Plains and 41 miles from Sandpoint. Did the staff at the CFVH actually think folks would drive nearly twice as far to see a doctor or have a procedure done at the Plains hospital? Just as the ambulances head west from the lower Clark Fork Valley, medical referrals are sent west. The only change is that gasoline is pricier.

As anyone who has ever had a financial transaction with the Clark Fork Valley Hospital knows, their bookkeeping can only be described as ‘creative accounting.’ Yet it is this messy bookkeeping that has determined the Bull River Clinic is a losing proposition. CVFH is closing the clinic based upon ‘underutilization’; their backward bookkeeping did not allow counting physical rehabilitation appointments, drop-in urgent care patients or last minute consultations.

The rest of the residents of Sanders County get three medical facilities: Hot Springs Clinic, CFVH at Plains and Thompson Falls Clinic—all clustered in the eastern section of the county. The red-headed stepchildren of the west end are not supposed to get emergency service, urgent care, routine health checks or medical referrals.

Petitions are circulating, folks are riled up. The CFVH has agreed to meet with people in mid March to defend their decision. As one disappointed clinic patient says, “And to look us in the eye while telling us they are closing our clinic.” The CFVH better take note: Heron /Noxon people can be a determined bunch.


*From Sanders County Ledger, Feb. 2, 2012. Deb Green has not returned my repeated calls and messages to verify this statement. 

Clark Fork Valley Hospital has scheduled a meeting with Noxon/Heron folks on March 14th, 6 pm, at the Noxon High School Multi-Purpose Room.

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Author info

Lou Springer Lou Springer lives in Heron when not out on a river somewhere.

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Homepage, Headlines, Noxon, Heron, Sanders County, health care, medicine, Currents, Clark Fork Valley Hospital, Bull River Clinic

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