By Cameron Rasmusson
Sometimes, a ground floor view is exactly the perspective one needs.
That’s true for individuals, and it’s true for organizations as well. That includes Kaniksu Health Services. Following a year of immense health care challenges, the community health organization is looking forward to 2022 with a new name and new facility. For organization officials, it’s a step in keeping with its founding principle: a community-based organization understands its community’s needs best.
“After nearly 20 years, our image needed a little refresh,” said Kevin Knepper, Kaniksu CEO. “We have come a long way in the last 19 years. We’ve grown, and the community has grown with us. It was time to turn over a new leaf and create a new name and image that matched who we have become.”
What’s the new name to better fit that image? After an extensive rebranding effort, organization leadership settled on Kaniksu Community Health. Organization leaders believe it’s a more approachable name for what they hope is a more approachable organization — one that works with its community residents to solve health problems in a manner befitting their needs and their pocket book.
“Regardless of how you pay, or the complexity of your conditions, we will help you find solutions,” KCH representative Olivia Luther said, citing one of the organization’s foundational tenets. “We serve everyone in Bonner and Boundary counties, whether you are covered by Medicare or Medicaid, have private insurance, are a self-pay patient or one of our country’s veterans. If there are any concerns about how you will pay for services, talk to us. We’re here to help.”
Working patients through the obstacles that often block health care access — particularly a lack of insurance and other financial issues — is one of the reasons community health centers have become a popular health care model, particularly in rural areas. Structured as nonprofit organizations, health centers are governed by a local board of which more than half the members are patient consumers themselves. The idea is to provide care oriented around the patients’ needs, reducing strain on hospital emergency rooms by emphasizing wellness and preventative care.
No doubt, that mission will be aided by a development perhaps even more dramatic than the rebranding: a new, centralized facility located in the heart of Bonner County.
Super 1 Foods shoppers have no doubt seen and heard the construction for themselves. Located right across the street from the grocery store, the 26,200-square-foot facility gathered together all of Kaniksu’s services into a single location spread across 2.66 acres.
“We are excited to centralize patients’ health care by joining the medical, dental, pediatric, behavioral health and VA teams on one main campus,” said Knepper. “Having all of our services co-located alongside each other allows Kaniksu to offer comprehensive care from several perspectives in one convenient location.
“The new state-of-the-art Sandpoint clinic will allow us to increase efficiencies while offering all of our services to patients of all ages under one roof,” he said.
Named after former Kaniksu CEO Victoria McClellan King, the new clinic is funded in part through a low-interest loan from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, taking advantage of a program designed to kickstart rural projects.
“This centrally located site will provide easy access for residents of Bonner County as well as keep the close proximity to the hospital that is vital for pediatric support,” said Knepper. “Patients will be able to access the clinic via foot, bicycle, automobile, SPOT bus or just about any mode of transportation available. The Ponderay, Sandpoint Pediatric and VA clinics are all currently operating with limited space and parking, and a combined clinic — with fully integrated services — will be a true benefit to Kaniksu’s patients and the community.”
The new clinic will open with enough space for Kaniksu Community Health’s family practice, pediatric, dental, behavioral health and VA services. It also allows for more expansive community engagement, with rooms outfitted for group activities, nutritional classes, health presentations and more.
On top of all that, the new building may be ready for service sooner than anyone anticipated. Not even the COVID-19 pandemic could slow progress on construction. According to Luther, construction is actually ahead of schedule. If work continues apace, Kaniksu staff anticipate wrapping up the project in November, moving operations in December and opening the new site by Jan. 3, 2022.
It’s a big change, one emblematic of almost 20 years of growth. From humble beginnings as a small Bonners Ferry family clinic in 2002, Kaniksu began charting new milestones year by year, growing into the five clinics under its umbrella today. Whether patients are looking for family medicine, pediatrics, dental care, behavior health or veterans’ services, Knepper said Kaniksu has worked to provide care tailored to each individual.
Knepper said Kaniksu staff are proud of the work they’ve accomplished during that time. Kaniksu Community Health is ranked among the top 10 percent of community health care clinics in the country, and Knepper added that he’s particularly proud of Kaniksu’s efforts in reducing uncontrolled diabetes among patients from 36% to 14%. Likewise, last year, Kaniksu reported the highest level of control in the state for the hypertensive population at 75%.
The rebranding and construction projects are organization milestones, to say the least. But Knepper said that Kaniksu’s priorities haven’t changed. The organization’s foundational principle of meeting patients where they’re at still reigns supreme. Starting in January, they’ll just have a little more working space.
“The rebrand places the ‘community’ in the center of our name, just as it is central to everything we do,” Knepper said.
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