Boards Move Forward Joining Kalispell Regional, North Valley Hospitals

Whitefish hospital will operate under the Kalispell Regional Healthcare umbrella

By Molly Priddy
Tagen Vine left, president of the Kalispell Regional Healthcare Foundation, and Jason Spring, CEO North Valley Hospital, discuss KRMC's potential acquisition of North Valley Hospital during a press conference on Nov. 2. Greg Lindstrom | Flathead Beacon

The governing boards at both North Valley Hospital and Kalispell Regional Healthcare System have approved a collaborative affiliation relationship between the Flathead’s two hospitals.

This means that North Valley Hospital will be under the umbrella of Kalispell Regional Healthcare, but will be its own entity, according to the affiliation agreement, with its own board of directors and foundation.

Jason Spring, CEO of North Valley, said the affiliation agreement merely reaffirms in writing a collaboration that already exists between the hospitals.

“It really just formalizes what we’ve done for a long time,” Spring said.

Both hospitals formed a joint task force in July 2013 to explore opportunities for collaboration and affiliation between the two medical companies. The task force sought to answer questions about what a relationship between the two hospitals would mean for access, quality and efficiency of care.

On Oct. 9, the KRH Board of Directors voted in favor of the recommendations from the task force. The North Valley Hospital Board of Directors followed suit during a meeting on Oct. 27.

“North Valley is really excited about this opportunity,” Spring said.

By joining forces, the organizations hope to develop more resources to meet the health needs of the Flathead community by allowing patients to stay close to home instead of having to travel out of the area for treatment.

It’s not a merger, when two independent hospitals would become one entity, Spring said. Rather, it’s North Valley having a more interdependent relationship with KRH.

Velinda Stevens, CEO at KRH, said the two organizations already share a bulk of their personnel, such as physicians and independent contractors.

“We probably share at least 70 percent already,” Stevens said.

Spring said this collaboration will allow both hospitals to pursue services they couldn’t provide alone, such as moving toward a system of care that takes the valley’s population and its needs into account, allowing for more preventative care to take place.

To test this out, both organizations have agreed to release an annual report for at least the first five years of the affiliation, showing the progress of the relationship and what has and hasn’t worked for the community.

For patients, nothing much will change, Spring said, other than some new services. Patients will still have a choice between North Valley and Kalispell Regional Medical Center, and the satellite clinics run by both hospitals will retain their names.

Employees at North Valley will still receive checks from North Valley, Spring said, though that could change in the future. North Valley has a little over 400 employees; KRH employs more than 2,700 people.

Stevens said one of the major changes the affiliation can tackle will be uniform digital medical records. Currently, both hospitals use digital records, but they don’t work well with each other. By creating a uniform system of records, it will benefit not only the hospitals, but also local medical providers as well.

Though both hospital CEOs have signed a memorandum of intent to move forward with the affiliation plan, that MOI is non-binding. With more details to iron out, both organizations hope to have the official plan in place by Jan. 1, 2016. Both governing boards will have to approve of the final affiliation agreement to cement it.

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