After a Burst of Construction, KRH Looks to Sustain Growth

As three major projects head toward completion, CEO Pamela Robertson seeks to grow existing and potential hospital programs

When Pamela Robertson arrived in Kalispell as the new CEO of Kalispell Regional Healthcare, it was less like walking into an office than taking to a raft and figuring out how to ride the existing momentum rolling through health care in the Flathead Valley.

Upon starting the job in Kalispell last September, Robertson stepped into a flow of construction and expansion, a hospital and health-care organization defining itself as a regional hub with major projects already in motion.

Robertson’s predecessor, Velinda Stevens, died last year from cancer, but Robertson said it is important to continue and complete the projects Stevens and Kalispell Regional Healthcare took care to build.

“Our vision is the same organizational vision that was established years ago: To be a fully integrated and aligned health-care system that provides high-quality and low-cost primary, specialty and tertiary medical care for the people we serve,” Robertson said.

Now, the goal is to develop the programs and potential possible within the expanded campus.

“Systemness is the word that best describes the meaning, to utilize our scope of services, talent and resources to create greater value for both the organization and those we serve,” Robertson said. “KRH has invested in the health of all Montanans through the addition of facilities, clinical expertise and expansion of programs. Montanans deserve to have a high level of health care in their own communities, reducing the travel burden on families seeking specialty care.”

The hospital’s reach will expand considerably with the completion of three major projects. The expansion of the Emergency Department from 8,000 square feet to 37,000 square feet — a $14 million project — should be completed this summer, while the Digestive Health Institute, a nearly $13 million project, should follow in early fall.

The largest project is the Montana Children’s Medical Center, clocking in at 190,000 square feet and costing $40 million. The center should be finished by spring 2019.

Instead of planning more major construction projects, Robertson said her goal for the near future is to build out the hospital within the expanded campus. KRH needs to evaluate existing services for efficiency and to optimize the existing infrastructure before making moves to build more, she said.

“We have three major projects under construction, which are expected to be completed by spring of 2019. Our growth has created an amazing health delivery network and we now need to focus on evaluating and designing our existing services and programs to create even greater value for those we serve,” Robertson said.

KRH will face considerable challenges in the future, she said, though the six-year extension of the Children’s Healthcare Insurance Program (CHIP) will take some pressure off patients and provide some stability for pediatric care.

But Robertson noted that the recent special session for the Montana Legislature resulted in a reduction of $6.6 million in Medicaid funds for KRH this coming year, and the uncertainty of the health-care landscape at a state and federal level means organizations must be nimble.

“The key to sustainability, when navigating health care’s uncharted waters, is to leverage our ‘systemness,’ by working together to create an integrated, collaborative, collegial health system,” Robertson said.

Given the uncertainty of health care as far as laws and regulations are concerned, Robertson said it’s important for health care to become a community conversation.

“Many solutions require a village approach, communities helping to create health communities,” she said. “(There is) recognition of the value of having patients involved in their care and in the wellness and prevention aspects of their health status is a priority that we can all embrace. Again, this is a shift from the traditional way we have thought about roles, but it is a welcome change.”