CEO shares hospital's goals

If you are sick or hurt in Sanders County, you're in luck.

Our hospital ranks among some of the best rural critical access hospitals in the U.S. And it just keeps getting better.

Dr. Greg Hanson, CEO of Clark Fork Valley Hospital and Family Medicine Network, shared some of the organizations's recent accomplishments and future goals at last week's meeting of the Thompson Falls Chamber of Commerce.

"This is a community-owned organization." said Dr. Hanson.  CFVH is a non-profit organization with the sole mission of "partnering with the community to improve the health of those we serve."  All income is reinvested in equipment, treatment, workforce development, and in the community.  It is the largest employer in the county, with up to 200 people on the payroll.  Those people, from doctors to housekeepers, technicians to administrators, also log thousands of volunteer hours each year, both at the hospital and in the community.  Management oversight is run by a community-based volunteer board.

Sanders County has several demographic, and geographic realities that affect healthcare services.  The sheer size of the county and sparse population has led to development of the Family Medicine Network including clinics in Bull River, Thompson Falls, Plains and Hot Springs.  The average age in the county is 44.2, which is 6.7 years above the Montana average, which creates a greater demand for health services.  Also, a whopping 25% of people here lack health insurance, compared with approximately 9% nationwide.

To meet the needs of this population, the hospital's foundation works tirelessly to raise funds and obtain grants that allow the hospital to provide a very high quality of care affordably.  In fact, the organization cover $831,024 of charity discounts in 2009, double that of 2008.

All this, and state-of-the-art healthcare too.  Everything in the hospital is new as of 2005 or later.  Donations and USDA grants helped buy a digital mammography unit this year, as well as a bone density scanner.  There are parenting and birthing classes to enhance the modern birthing rooms that even include jacuzzi tubs.  They have a full range of physical therapy, including an aquatic therapy pool, unusual for a small hospital.  "That means people with severe pelvic fractures are able to stay in the county and not have to travel so far for therapy," Dr. Hanson says.

The hospital is blessed with a highly talented staff of surgeons, family medicine doctors, specialists, technicians, nurses, therapists, you name it.  There is nutrition counseling and diabetes care.  You can have a pacemaker put in, and even have a sleep study done to help you overcome sleep apnea.  And compassionate home health care staff sticks with you if you have to enter the hospital or hospice care, so those relationships are maintained.

Perhaps it pays to live in this beautiful area.  All of these providers are constantly approached by recruiters trying to get them to move somewhere else.  "There is a shortage of primary care providers and all other providers nationwide," said Dr. Hanson.  he was especially delighted with the recent hire of Mary Russell, an occupational therapist who can even help stroke victims with recovery. "Occupational therapists are very difficult to find," he said, but she and her husband moved here to work at Camp Bighorn, and the hospital was more than happy to bring her into the fold.

"Our people are as well-trained as anyone in the country, and more well-rounded," said Hanson. "They have to handle a wider variety of needs.  It's not so specialized - more of a holistic approach."

"The best recruitment tool," said Hanson, "is to grow your own." CFVH sponsors educational events such as Hands on Health this past winter and hosts Noxon High School science classes for health career related field trips.

Dr. Hanson pointed out that no matter how good the facility is, your health and your healthcare costs are still in your hands. "The most important thing you can do is connect with a primary care doctor. They will make sure you get the screenings you need.  Screenings, such as mammograms and colonoscopies, really work.  We can find problems before they get big.  That helps you and keeps costs down."
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