Bonner General Hospital celebrates 60 years
By Patty Hutchens
When Bonner General Hospital first incorporated in 1949, it marked a turning point for medical care in this small northern Idaho community. This year the hospital not only commemorates 60 years of providing medical services for Greater Sandpoint, but it also celebrates the hospital’s accomplishments as the staff and volunteers continue to successfully meet the demands of Sandpoint’s fast-growing community.
The beginning of Bonner General Hospital’s story began in 1949 when a single-story, wooden infirmary from Farragut Naval Training Station at the south end of Lake Pend Oreille was transported 25 miles by barge to the hospital’s current location. After raising the funds to reunite the sectioned-off building, Bonner General opened its doors in 1951. The original building was replaced in 1973, and today Bonner General Hospital houses a modern surgical center, provides cancer treatment, has a rooftop helipad and offers a myriad of wellness and prevention programs.
Jack Parker, a member of the hospital’s board of directors since 1964 and chairman of the board from 1968 to 2006, recalls one of the biggest challenges in the early years was the recruitment of physicians. “Rural medicine is tough,” said Parker. “We started out with three doctors but now have 50.”
Due to an increase in the demand for services, Bonner General Hospital added onto its facility in 1999, providing additional space to house its outpatient services. But a need that was not met until recently is in the area of cancer care. A portion of Bonner General Hospital was remodeled in 2007 to accommodate Kootenai Cancer Center, which now rents that space. The center handled 6,534 visits last year, saving many residents the need to travel to Coeur d’Alene for their oncology needs.
Also in 2007 a hospital foundation was formed and Lynda Metz was hired as director of community development.
“It (the foundation) was a result of the hospital board’s desire to create a vehicle to fund equipment that the hospital might not otherwise be able to afford,” said Metz. “Bonner General receives approximately 95 percent of its revenue from the services it provides to patients. Often those payments do not fully cover the cost of treating the patient, such as when the patient is insured by Medicare or Medicaid. The foundation helps to offset this imbalance by raising additional funds for the hospital’s equipment and technology needs.”
Last fall the hospital opened a fourth operating room and is now in the process of raising funds to replace all the surgical warming cabinets. Last year alone 5,786 surgical procedures were performed at Bonner General. There were also 2,937 inpatient admissions and more than 58,000 outpatient visits during that same time period. Earlier this year the hospital formed a 30-member Hospital Foundation Advisory Council that is made up of business and community leaders. Their role is to provide recommendations on how to improve the hospital’s services.
Bonner General is the county’s fourth largest employer, with 415 full- and part-time employees. Through its “BGH Cares” program, it provided nearly $800,000 last year in unreimbursed charity care to patients who would not otherwise be able to afford the services they received. Bonner General Hospital’s CEO, Sheryl Rickard, said the hospital continues to plan how to best meet the needs of the growing community.
“Our short-term goals are to maximize the services we currently provide by focusing on quality, efficiency and cost while continuing to improve our patients’ overall experience,” said Rickard.
Looking ahead, Rickard said the hospital needs to determine whether there is a need to build a new facility. “Considering our space challenges for our growing services and the never-ending need for additional parking, we need to look at whether we can stay in our current location or if we need to move to a new location to better accommodate our growing community,” said Rickard.