Kootenai Health is racing to be the best department possible

“The key has been to bring in the right leadership and stimulate them with wonderful projects."
By Jeff Rowe
02:22 PM

How quickly can an IT department go from 0 to 60?

That's not a question one often encounters in healthcare, but it comes readily to mind after you've heard about Kootenai Health in Coeur d'Alene, Idaho.

When Steve Garske, Kootenai's CIO, moved in 2012 to the northern Idaho healthcare provider from a job he loved at Children¹s Hospital in Los Angeles, more than 60 percent of the hospital's IT services were outsourced, and the existing department generated about $5,000 in revenues. 

[Slideshow: Best Large Hospital IT Departments, 2014]

Now, there's a staff of 89, and Kootenai has in-sourced, among other things, the help desk and all network and service support, while investing millions in infrastructure. And last year, the department earned $5.4 million in services across the region.

Naturally, money is neither the object nor the goal. As an independent, community-owned healthcare organization, Kootenai Health’s primary mission is to provide the best care possible to the community and surrounding region. But in an age when most healthcare providers are looking for ways to take advantage of new IT opportunities, the success of Kootenai’s modernization and investment strategy is perhaps most easily measured by how many services they are able to provide across their rural landscape.

To Garske, who essentially built the department from scratch, “the key has been to bring in the right leadership and stimulate them with wonderful projects. And we have basically replaced 99 percent of the IT infrastructure we found when we got here.”

In 2011 Kootenai completed one IT upgrade project.  Last year they completed 39.

“It’s one of the things I’m proudest about in our organization,” says Jon Ness, Kootenai’s CEO. “Our IT department has moved from being a weakness to becoming the foundation of a key regional strategy in a very short period of time. We try to approach our IT efforts from the perspective of what’s the best thing possible for patient care.”

While having management that is committed to investing in upgrading systems is important, to put it mildly, Garske said the real key to Kootenai’s success is the people in the department.

“We’re a very productive team,” he observed, “but the key is to keep focused on what our goal is, which is to provide the best healthcare anywhere.”

To ensure they’re going in the right direction, Garske said, they often bring in recent patients and/or their families to talk about how IT helped them during their stay at Kootenai, as well as how the system might be improved.

“It brings value to what we do every day,” he said, “because it reminds us of the kind of work we do.”

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