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Kootenai Health Is In A Pickle

"In recent years community owned hospitals have been dying off. Kootenai Health is unique in its ability to withstand the changes in healthcare and maintain the ever elusive status of “Community Owned”. I am proud to live in an area that allows healthcare to be personal and accountable.

That last word is a big one: Accountability.

Kootenai Health takes large steps towards making sure the community is supported. Whether it be a booth at an Ironman, free transportation, free car seats, heart screenings, cancer checks, or educational classes, Kootenai certainly makes time for the community. As the status would suggest, 7 of the 9 board members are publicly elected. As with any elected office, the basilar purpose of those individuals is to act on behalf of their constituents. Our community has been through ups and downs with the virus over the last two years, and the ”Healthcare Heroes” showed up to work. Those same people live here, their families live here, they are part of “The Community.”

Now, please understand the frustration these folks harbor when Kootenai Health administration, in the midst of potential litigation, makes a sweeping decision to push forward their very own Vaccine Mandate. Yesterday’s Heroes now have a choice. Get a Vaccine, get an excemption, or get a new job. This mandate is easily the biggest news in healthcare for decades, so the question is, why was the board not called on to vote on the Vaccine Mandate? Surely a community owned and operated facility would want the community to weigh-in on such an important topic?

That word I highlighted early on, accountability, seems to be lacking at the moment. Not long ago I sat in a meeting with my colleagues and listened to administration explain how Kootenai Health’s hands were bound and they must proceed with the mandate due to CMS rulings. I won’t play the role of 5 minute lawyer, but it’s plain to see that the mandates, whether OSHA or CMS, are being fought in court and could very well be overturned. So now, with a seemingly sufficient opportunity to pause and allow the courts to do what they were meant to do, Kootenai has flipped the script. It’s no longer a sorrowful tale of, “we are only doing this because of CMS,” instead it’s a betrayal of trust in the form of Kootenai’s own mandate. No input from the community, just an administrative edict.

“We will continue to move forward with a COVID-19 vaccination requirement like hospitals in Boise and Spokane did even before the CMS rule.” I now have no doubt that Kootenai Health is out of touch with the community they serve. Following the lead of facilities in Boise and Spokane is reminiscent of climbing a mountain in my crocs. They’re light and comfy. But sharp rocks rip through the soles and my feet freeze in the snow. My crocs serve a purpose, but they have no business on a mountainside. The folks that live in Kootenai County are here for a reason. The growing number of concerned staff that have confronted me have echoed this feeling, “If I wanted to live and work in a place like Boise or Spokane I would do so, I’d sure get paid more”. In an effort to stay non-partisan, I won’t say more, but — goodness gracious — know your audience!

At this point in our Covid journey, the folks that want vaccinated have done so. We’ve recently seen in excess of 900 exemptions filed. Employee Health seems to be handing out said exemptions like cheap Halloween candy. I can tell you without any sort of embellishment, myself and the staff that I associate with, vaccinated or not, have had enough. This is no longer about the efficacy of the vaccine, or the danger of the virus. We are healthcare workers, we know the virus is real, we know the vaccine can provide some benefits. Above all that, we know that our individual freedoms are at risk. When faced with a choice between career and morality, I hope that the employees and the community remember that the only one who truly cares what you do in your life is God. If I leave my career behind, will admin even blink? Perhaps my direct contact employees will feel the effect of my absence for a week or so, but my life’s work will slip away into the dark. It’s no wonder there’s a healthcare crisis. And you know something?

It isn’t Covid’s fault."

By Westin Carey a former Kootenai Health Employee


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